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Government should sell off over 90% of Forestry Commission’s land to raise £4.3bn

· The Adam Smith Institute’s latest report argues that 92% of the Forestry Commission’s land could be privatised without endangering valuable broadleaf forests.

· The Forestry Commission should act purely as a regulator to avoid any conflict of interest. It should not own or operate woodland.

According to a report released today (THURSDAY) by the Adam Smith Institute the government should be more ambitious in their plans to sell off the Forestry Commission’s land. 92% of the Commission’s land is coniferous or non-wooded, including farmland, and could be sold to raise up to £4.3bn without any impact on the broadleaf woodland most valued for public use.

These broadleaf forests, valued for their heritage and amenity, only make up 8% of the Forestry Commission’s land, and are generally not up for sale. The vast majority of the Commission’s woodlands are coniferous, with no bio-diversity, little variety of fauna and scant public amenity, says the report’s author, Miles Saltiel.

The Commission is also subject to inherent conflicts of interest as the largest single forest-owner and as the forest regulator, leading to chronic obstruction of Britain’s forestry sector. It has also failed in its key aims, including the following:

· Prevention of countryside erosion – its forestry practices is believed to have contributed to the acidification of Britain’s rivers

· Provision of visual amenity to the public – little has been done since insensitive tree-planting policies before the late eighties

· Assistance to the survival of natural fauna – the monoculture of plantations has limited ecological diversity

· Provision of a return on the public’s investment – this has never happened

The Forestry Commission’s failure to meet its aims mean that it is not fit for purpose and should sell or lease all its land, subject to covenants and arms-length regulation, which would protect the environment and ensure continued public access where appropriate. The Commission would then become a purely regulatory body. This would save the government £240million per annum in administrative costs, while also raising £4.3bn.

In this scenario, heritage woodlands like the Forest of Dean could be protected through a scheme of “voucher privatization”, whereby local citizens are given a stake in the forests rather than using charities or other intermediary groups. As the report notes, most of the UK’s broadleaf woodland is already privately owned, so this is not as radical a proposal as critics might suggest.

Dr Eamonn Butler, Director of the Adam Smith Institute, said:

“The Forestry Commission is a quango that has failed on all its objectives. It is not fit for purpose: it cannot regulate the UK's forests and be the largest forestry owner and manager itself.

“If we want to improve the forest environment, boost public access, and get better management and new capital into our woodlands, we need to open up state forestry to new people with new ideas. And we should do that not just in England, but in the other parts of the UK where the dead hand of state forestry denies real amenity and return to taxpayers.”

You can read the full report here

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