When the Government announced its proposals to sell the public forest estate earlier this year, it started a public consultation. Because of the public furore that ensued, the consultation was abandoned after only three weeks.
Nonetheless, 7,007 responses had already been sent in and until now, we had no idea what they showed.
But now we do. A fascinating analysis of these 7,007 responses has been published by ‘Forest Research’, the research arm of the Forestry Commission. It’s available on its website: http://www.forestresearch.gov.uk/fr/pfeanalysis It gives a snapshot of the public mood towards forests.
The analysis shows that maintaining or increasing access was a major concern of respondents. Many of the respondents thought the proposals to sell the bulk of the Forestry Commission-owned forests would put at risk people’s ability to access their forests. Whilst most forests were not created for public access – timber was often the key reason – access has become one of the major ways forests are used.
When asked about priorities for woodland management, top came “protect access”, and second came “increase access”. These were followed by “protect or expand existing woodland”, “cultural heritage”, “social/recreation”, “commercial/productive/timber”, and “forest employment”.
If all of the upset over forests this year has achieved anything, it has woken people up to how much they love using their forests – and much pleasure they get from them, and how their forests add to their quality of life. Of course, with so many woods and forests still ‘out of bounds’, particularly those not in the public forest estate, the question is: how do we get more new and existing forests opened up for public enjoyment? There’s a massive demand for them.
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