Have your say on England’s publicly owned forests

People in Cumbria who live close to, work with, or enjoy the region’s woods and forests are being given the chance to have their say about the role that publicly owned forests – the Public Forest Estate – in England should play in the years ahead.

A family walking through the woods at Whinlatter near Keswick

A family walking through the woods at Whinlatter near Keswick

The Public Forest Estate is managed by the Forestry Commission and includes 258,000 hectares of land of which 25,000 hectares are in the North West.

The region includes three forest parks – Grizedale and Whinlatter in Cumbria and Delamere in Cheshire – as well as many other important forests and woodlands such as Gisburn in Lancashire.

There are also increasing areas of woodland in Manchester and Merseyside, such as Moston Vale in Salford and Bidston Moss and Sutton Manor in St Helens, thanks to the Newlands project which is funded by the North West Regional Development Agency.

These woods and forests provide important public benefits including providing sites for recreation such as walking and mountain biking, looking after wildlife, helping to create beautiful landscapes, growing timber, supporting businesses and jobs, helping to prevent floods and locking up carbon.

Dr Eunice Simmons who chairs the Forestry Commission’s Regional Advisory Committee in North West England, says: “The 21st Century is bringing increasing pressure on the countryside and our towns and cities from climate change, pollution, and development.  It is also bringing opportunities such as globalisation and moving to a low carbon economy.

“The Forestry Commission is already playing an important role in helping us meet these challenges and make the most of the opportunities.  Now we are having this consultation to give everyone the chance to take part in a Study to work out the role of a modern Public Forest Estate for the 21st century.  These woods and forests are for the benefit of everyone so we hope that as many people as possible will give us their views.”

The Study of the Public Forest Estate was announced by the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Hilary Benn. Trees grow slowly and woods and forests develop over a long period of time so the choices made now will provide the framework for decisions about the Public Forest Estate for decades to come.

People are being asked to consider questions such as what sort of leisure facilities they want to be provided in publicly owned forests, how should these facilities be paid for and what role can the Public Forest Estate play in helping society to adapt to climate change?

This is the first time that a long-term mandate has been sought to shape the future of England’s Public Forest Estate.

Environment Secretary Hilary Benn said: “Our publicly-owned woods and forests are good for wildlife, the environment and our wellbeing.  They give us green space for healthy exercise and recreation, and many other social, economic and environmental benefits including important nature conservation and more than a million tonnes of sustainable timber.

“We want to hear your views on the future role of the Forestry Commission Public Forest Estate.”

Responses to the consultation will provide key evidence for the Study and the Forestry Commission wants as many people as possible to get involved.  A copy of the full consultation document and an online response form is available at http://www.forestry.gov.uk/england-estatestudy.

A short questionnaire is also are available online at http://www.forestry.gov.uk/england-estatestudy-quickresponse and at Forestry Commission visitor centres.  This asks people to list the top 5 things they would like the Forestry Commission to do in the future.

The consultation finishes on 28th September 2009.

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