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We're not out of the woods yet, RSPB warns

Last modified: 27 January 2011

Woodland sunrise taken at RSPB Headquarters

The RSPB has cautiously welcomed news that protecting and enhancing wildlife is to be a key test for how the Government plans to dispose of England’s Public Forest Estate,

However, the charity has warned that the fight to save vital wildlife habitats is not over and it will be scrutinising Government plans closely.

Today the Government launched its consultation over the future of the Forestry Commission England estate.

RSPB conservation director Mark Avery said: “Protecting wildlife and ensuring public access is a key test for any change in ownership of our forests. But the sheer scale of the changes may make this very difficult to achieve in practice.

“We remain open minded about these proposals – but we need to be reassured that whoever manages former state run forests, whether private individuals, companies, leaseholders or trusts and charities, will protect our native wildlife.

“The Forestry Commission needs to regulate and oversee this management by providing the right support and advice, otherwise this looks like Government offloading its responsibilities to nature.

“We welcome the assurances that ‘heritage forests’ such as the Forest of Dean and the New Forest will be protected but there are many other areas that are also important for wildlife which need to be secured, including those with the future potential to support a range of threatened species.

“We would like to see the restoration of heathland and native woodlands which have been damaged by the planting and replanting of conifers for commercial timber. Lowland heathland is one of our most endangered habitats and supports Dartford warblers, nightjars, woodlarks and a range of rare butterflies, reptiles and amphibians.

“We remain unconvinced that the correct safeguards and support mechanism have been built into the proposals for commercially valuable forests and woodlands that include lowland heathland and native woodland.

“This process of redefining the state forest and the wider role of the state in forestry needs to be robust and in depth, with a clear vision for securing public benefits on remaining the state forest as well as the sold land. We are all eagerly awaiting the outcome of this consultation but it makes no sense to rush ahead and produce a plan which fails to take the needs of people and wildlife fully into account.”

The RSPB will be holding the Government to account through the consultation on publicly owned forestry with a set of guiding principles drawn up to ensure the needs of wildlife are met.

The RSPB welcomes the commitment from Government announced today on protecting and enhancing biodiversity in our forests. However, these worthy intentions risk being undermined by proposed fundamental changes to forestry law in the upcoming Public Bodies Bill.

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