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‘The Independent Panel on Forestry has done a great job in seeing the wood and the trees.’ So said the society in welcoming the long-awaited final report of the panel which was published today.
The panel has declared that the public forest estate should not be sold off, but remain in public ownership and be defined in statute as land held in trust for the nation. It calls for everyone to be able to enjoy a local woodland—we should take the woods to the people by expanding both the woodlands and people’s access to them.
The aspirations in the report are excellent. But what now? We urge the government to consider how best to secure permanent access to the 82 per cent of woods and forests which are in private ownership. There is a real risk that if the incentives are not permanent, the access they are encouraging will disappear with them.
One way to secure permanent access is for the land to be dedicated under section 16 of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act, as the Forestry Commission has done. It can also provide for rights for riders and cyclists.
So we call on the government to pick up where the panel has left off, to recognise the vital and wide-ranging value of woods and forests to our nation, and to take forward and implement the panel’s inspiring recommendations for all time.