BBC BLOGS - See Also
« Previous | Main | Next »

Green Room

Post categories:

Mark Kinver | 14:35 UK time, Monday, 31 January 2011

This edition of Green Room takes a look at the growing row over UK government plans to dispose of land owned by the Forestry Commission, and how a disease has left conservationists fearing for the long-term future of some of the nation's most loved trees.

If you can't go into the woods today...

As the UN Year of Forests prepares for its official launch, the UK government finds itself facing a growing level of opposition to its consultation on disposing of land owned by the Forestry Commission.

Oak shoot (Image: BBC)


The Sunday Telegraph newspaper is leading the media charge with its Save our Forests campaign.

A growing number of high-profile people are lending their names to the call to keep the forests in public ownership.

Broadcaster (Lord) Melvin Bragg, according to the Guardian, has described plans to sell off forests within the Lake District as "political vandalism".

However, it is worth remembering that the UK does not have a forest culture that is deeply engrained in its national history, in comparison with other European nations such as Germany.

The Forestry Commission was established back in 1919, when it was realised that the nation was so dependant on timber imports from forest-rich nations that its industrial might was vulnerable during wartime to shipping blockades.

For decades, from the time the commission planted its first trees on 8 December 1919 in Devon, the dominant view was that the UK tree management policy should follow a "whatever the cost" attitude.

However, the combination of the emergence of alternative materials and net afforestation in Europe saw this argument lose weight.

Instead the commission evolved into a multi-objective organisation as a result of the public's increasing demand for recreation and environmental services such as nature protection. By the end of the 1990s, a greater volume of broadleaved species were being planted than conifers.

This is not the first time that a government has attempted to dispose of commission-owned forests in order to boost the public coffers.

During the 1980s and early 1990s, some forests were sold by the then-Conservative government. However, ministers again faced strong opposition, so plans for further privatisation were ditched in the mid-1990s.

Among the current concerns being voiced by campaigners is that the majority of bidders will be organisations that will want to develop the land.

Trees face uncertain future

Whether or not this will be the case remains to be seen, but it does not appear to be a good time to buy a woodland, either broadleaf or conifer.

There is growing concern about the possible impact of a disease that has now being recorded in all corners of the UK. Sudden oak death, the result of a fungal infection, affects a number of tree species, not just English oaks.

In fact, the Forestry Commission says it has only affected five native oak trees to date, and describe the "sudden oak death" term as a misnomer, preferring to call it ramorum disease.

In 2009, it was found to be affecting Japanese larches in South-West England - these were the first recorded occurences in coniferous species. Since then, cases have been recorded in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Advice from Forest Research - the scientific arm of the Forestry Commission - says Phytophthora ramorum kills many of the trees that it infects, and could have serious impacts on trees, woodland, forest industries and the wider environment.

Conservationists are worried, warning that failure to contain the spread of the disease could have a devastating impact, threatening species that depend on woodland habitats for their survival.

More from this blog...

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.