Murder in The Forest
Britain's story begins with trees – birch, elm, ash, pine, apple, hawthorne and yew trees, lime, chestnut, hornbeam, beech and oak trees. Ten thousand years ago the trees returned to Britain as the ice retreated.
The Druids loved them and worshipped in groves of trees. The Romans imported trees from the Mediterranean - sweet chestnut, walnut almond and quince trees - and planted them before they themselves vanished. In a subsequent millennium, Brits would use oaks to build theatre stages and sailing ships, travelling the globe in reality and in imagination, but before that happened Anglo-Saxon and Norman kings had carved out great swathes of forest where they hunted the red deer, and their wardens hunted men.
A different kind of murder is being planned today.
The king's men mutilated Brits when they encroached on the royal forest. We think that William II's death by arrow in the New Forest was not an accident and not the work of his ambitious brother but the act of an Anglo-Saxon rebel who had finally had enough of William denying the people's ancient and shared common rights to their forest's free air, wild animals, building wood and fuel.
The practice continued under Henry II, Richard and John. The kings greedily called towns, villages and farms - and the entire counties of Cornwall and Devon - their forest. If your home was in the king's 'forest', you could be fined for clearing your land and planting vegetables. If you killed a deer for dinner, you could be blinded. That changed after Magna Carta. and the Charter of the Forest of 1217, which returned to the people all the forests taken by Henry, Richard and John and reestablished the ancient right of shared common lands and resources. Today there is another kind of murder being planned in Britain's forest.
Trees are woven into the history of these islands - into Celtic mysticism, the murder of William Rufus, land protests, the fires of martyrs and even the covenants of abolitionists, as we explain in our book, Share the Inheritance. (Available at Amazon UK and Amazon USA.) As late as the 16th century, one-third of Britain was still shadowy with trees. John Evelyn and JRR Tolkien wrote prose odes to the the forests. Brits returning from horticultural explorations in the Americas and Asia enriched Britain with a host of trees brought back by ship.
Today we go to the forests to refresh ourselves, to observe the life of wild things, to listen for the clash of antlers and the strange groaning sounds that 'echo from clearings in the woods'! So a recent headline in the Telegraph came as a stunning and blood-boiling shock - Ministers plan huge sell-off of Britain's forests.
Our immediate, ill-tempered response was, 'Who the hell do they think they are?' And, 'This is a declaration of war'.
Hundreds of opponents of the government sell-out immediately shared their views on line. One thoughtful commenter brought readers up-to-date -
Forest policy has been changing since the 1980s with a change from primarily timber production in conifer plantations to what is now a multi-purpose activity. Timber production is still a valid activity with many economically successful markets, wildlife & habitat conservation and improvement, public access for a variety of activities. The FC estate is sustainably managed in accordance with the globally recognised principles & criteria of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). The three main headings of these principles are Social, Economic, Environmental. A balance has to be met here and the whole activity from forest management right through a chain of custody is independently certified. The FSC principles are applied via the UK Woodland Assurance Standard, UKWAS.
The FC is the organisation owning and looking after the forests and woodlands of the nation on behalf of you, the taxpayer. Like all of us it is not perfect and has suffered much bad press in the past, especially from the 1960s days of large conifer plantations. A lot has changed since then and now a wider remit is observed. Native species are favoured and encouraged, the environmental value of conifers is recognised where appropriate and areas which are better off being restored to non tree cover like heath and moorland are managed thus.
Public access on the FC estate is covered by the Countryside Rights of Way (CroW) Act. This means there is a right to roam on any land dedicated under CroW. All FC land is dedicated under CroW.
Dangers of the sell off to the private sector include massive changes in who owns the forests, how they are managed (development for housing, roads, golf courses, theme parks), potential for environmental damage (unsustainable logging, felling ancient trees), a reduction or complete removal of public access rights (changes to access laws and rights of way, allowing footpaths to overgrow with vegetation making them inaccessible).
If the forests are sold off you may find the new owners are not what you would expect. They could end up in the hands of Saudi princes, Russian oil oligarchs, Asian billionaire businessmen, foreign investment banks, all people who may care little for the forests they own apart from their value on the financial balance sheet. Little notice will be taken of us little Britons who at present enjoy all the aspects that forests and woodlands have to offer us.
. . .once it is gone it really is gone, and gone forever.
Can you bear to lose this?
The forests do not belong to this government or any government. The forests belong to the people. Governments are the stewards of our lands, not their owners. When will we teach these greedy, thoughtless, overweening governments that there are limits to their abuse? The people stopped the forest sell-off attempt of the Major government. They will have to stop this one.
You can sign an online petition here.