Environment Secretary Owen Paterson has announced an independent body to oversee publicly owned forests in the UK.
Alongside the continuing work of the Forestry Commission, this new body will own, maintain and safeguard the forests on behalf of the public.
The announcement formed part of the Government's response to the Independent Panel on Forestry's report on the future of trees and woodland.
The Government confirmed its support for the Panel's vision and has accepted many of its recommendations in full. The main organisation representing private forestry owners, the Country Land and Business Association welcomed the government's report."The statement of forestry policy is timely and encouraging" CLA President Harry Cotterell said."It is particularly good that the Government has reiterated its pledge to give a higher priority to tree and plant health than ever before with up to £8.5million found from various sources to undertake in-depth research into tree diseases." "We are also encouraged that it includes a promise that the Government will work with landowners to increase the amount of actively managed woodland and to review this process in five years' time."The policy sets out an ambition to expand wooded areas, increase the amount of woodland being well managed, maintain and improve access to our public woodland and improve the economic performance of the forestry sector.
"I want to put the future of our public forests on a clear and firm footing" Paterson said. "Our forests and woodland will remain secured in public ownership for the people who enjoy them, the businesses that depend on them and the wildlife that flourishes in them. A new, independent body will ensure our woods are held in trust and managed for the long term benefit of future generations, nature and the economy."
"We all care passionately about our woodlands, which is why I share the Independent Panel’s vision for the future of our forests." "We have listened to views of woodland organisations, interest groups, businesses and the public and their ideas have also helped to shape this policy.
“Our woodland economy has the potential to create jobs and growth, and the action plan the forestry industry is establishing will set out a road map to achieve that. Most importantly of all, we need to look after this precious resource. Recent pest and disease outbreaks have underlined that in addition to increasing woodland we must protect what we have and help others to do so”
Forestry Minister David Heath said: "Government cannot and should not do this alone." "The spirit of partnership forged by the Panel and more recently during the outbreak of ash dieback must continue, not least because many of the Panel’s ambitions are wider challenges for the sector and society as a whole. People can play an important role in protecting and improving our woodland."
Paterson has made tree health a top priority for Defra and has established an independent plant health task force convened by Defra's Chief Scientific Adviser, Professor Ian Boyd, to bring together the best scientific evidence which will help to address diseases such as ash dieback.
The policy published today sets out how the Government is already giving a greater priority to tree health research, including an additional £1 million of funding announced in September 2012. In addition, the Living With Environmental Change (LWEC) Partnership will use £4 million of Defra funding, £0.5 million of additional Forestry Commission funding and up to £4 million additional funding from research councils to do in-depth research into tree diseases to inform the way outbreaks are handled in the future.
The CLA President also highlighted the Statement’s backing for developing the voluntary woodland carbon market to reflect forestry’s low carbon credentials, and the announcement of a pilot scheme to reduce regulatory burdens on landowners who want to plant woodland.He added: "The Government's plans for making forestry more commercial are commendable. Now it is vital they are implemented."