The United Kingdom was once covered in forests. As time passed, most forest was felled. It was used for everything from constructing what are now great cities to building the ships that helped expand the British Empire.
These days, our national forests cover only a tiny fraction of their former glory and serve not only as recreational spaces for people like you and me but also as much needed conservation areas. During the ’80s and ’90s there were several long-running conflicts between environmental activists and city planners. Generally these disputes started because of new roads being planned which would destroy tracts of ancient forest. For the last ten years, however, there has been little need for activists to tie themselves to trees, because it seemed that they had won the war to protect Britain’s natural heritage. Sadly, it looks like that period of peace might be coming to an end.
Recently the coalition government has proposed plans to sell off around 50 per cent of the nation’s publicly owned woods and forests to interested parties. The idea is that the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will make massive budget savings by selling off forest and allowing it to be managed by private parties. However, in reality, the plan may not have such a happy ending. DEFRA will save a small fortune, but the public may lose a large part of the nation’s remaining natural heritage. This is due to the fact that the aforementioned interested parties are mostly timber companies and developers of leisure resorts, both of which do not exactly have a great reputation for conservation. In a sense, it’s a bit like selling matches to a pyromaniac. The intentions may seem good, but the possibility of a negative outcome is quite high.
There's a crunch vote in Parliament on Wednesday 2 February. MPs will vote on a motion demanding a rethink of plans to sell our forests. This vote was announced on Friday and it's only happening due to everyone who has joined together to stand up for our public forests. If enough people contact their MPs, there is a real chance of influencing the vote. If you are concerned, you should email your local MP now to express your opinion. You can find his or her email address here: http://www.parliament.uk/about/contacting/mp/.