Big Ben was burned to the ground last week by protesters angry about the coalition government’s plans to sell off all of England’s publicly owned woodland. Unfortunately, it was just a model – this time, at least.
The government proposes to sell all of the Forestry Commission owned land in England. That’s 650,000 acres of land, including 20,000 hectares of ancient woodland… nearly 20% of all of England’s wooded land.
At the time of writing this article, more than 129,000 people have signed a petition against the plans, and there have been rallies and protests across England – most notably at the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire, where 3000 protesters pledged to defend the people’s trees, culminating in a Wickerman-esque effigy burning as a sign of their seriousness and how far they’re willing to take their defence campaign.
In May, David Cameron declared that he wanted to coalition to be the “greenest government ever”. Indeed, the Conservative party logo is a tree. And yet they’re more than happy to sell off one of England’s most vital assets to the highest bidder, to do with what they will. Who needs oxygen producing trees and diverse eco-systems when you can have retail parks and office suites?
Forestry is a devolved issue – meaning that the parliament in Westminster gets has no say over what happens to Scotland’s forests – which is why it is only the land that the Forestry Commission own in England which is to be sold at the moment.
But the Scottish Government are slightly behind Westminster’s schedule when it comes to announcing cuts, and there is a great deal of pressure on Holyrood to conform to the cuts agenda. Scottish Environment Minister Roseanne Cunningham made a statement a few months ago denying any plans to sell off Scotland’s forests, which is definitely a positive step in terms of defending our woodlands against any future attacks.
However, many would see forests and woodlands as an easy target for cuts compared to rowdy students and benefits claimants – which is why it’s more important than ever that the anti-cuts movement is vocal in opposition to all cuts.
Our forests are just as important an asset for the future as education and public services, and we need to prepared to stand up and say so.