I like trees. They are an important part of our landscape, especially the native deciduous varieties. They may shed their leaves, causing trouble to the nationalised railway, but they are at their most magnificent in the autumn when they change colour.
I look out at home at trees in my neighbours’ gardens. I suspect my neighbours like trees as well. I have never had any trouble with a neighbour wanting to cut them down. I now discover that these trees, shock horror, are private sector trees. Private sector trees, according to all so many active campaigners, are not the same as public sector trees. They are either not so attractive, or they will be cut down as soon as possible to be replaced by an office block.
The misleading and over the top campaign against the sale of some Forestry Commission land reflects the worst of UK public sector debate. Some run pictures of heritage woodlands that are in the public sector, and imply these are threatened with closure to the public or with development. The only problem with all this propaganda is the government has stated very clearly that no heritage woodland will be sold. The government is not trying to get money for the bits of the New Forest or the Forest of Dean that the state does still own.
The campaigners do not put up pictures of the plantations of conifers which make up an important part of the Forestry Commission land which the state might sell. Nor do they point out that the government is only proposing to sell a long lease, so the private sector can farm these trees more efficiently and supply the state with much needed cash in the meantime.
Nor do they point out that where the public currently has rights of access and enjoyment of the farmed forest in state hands, all such rights will continue as part of the private sector’s contract. They suggest the private contractors might prefer to grow houses or offices instead of trees, without ever pausing to answer the question why would local Councils suddenly grant planning permission for such activity? The sales of leases do not come with revised planning permissions. And why should someone want to develop, if the state gets it all back at the end of the lease period for nothing?
The only trees that have been cut down or threatened in my locality have not been destroyed by private sector demand. They were parts of a woodland owned by the National trust, where the owners decided they did not like the trees and wanted a different landscape, or a beautiful old oak tree that stood in the way of a highway development the Council wished to push through. The nationalised railway has also done its bit by hacking back natural growth along the railway line.
Campaigners should try reading the facts before they launch their campaigns. The Coalition proposals on the Forestry Commission are very mild and sensible. Private sector trees can be just as attractive as public sector ones. You can walk through private sector woods on public footpaths and bridleways, just as much as through public sector woods.