Tessa met Lorne Campbell and Kevin Stannard from the Forestry Commission, Andy Mallender from the Mendip Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and Chris Sperring MBE, Conservation Officer for the Hawk & Owl Trust.
Following a mass public outcry over proposed forest sales, last week saw Mrs Spelman tell the House of Commons “we got this one wrong”. Under fire for an hour of questions from MPs, she revealed she would:
i) end the consultation on the future of the forests
ii) remove the forestry clauses from the Public Bodies Bill and
iii) establish an ‘independent panel’ to consider future forestry policy for England
Tessa questioned the Minister in Parliament, saying: “I welcome the Secretary of State’s announcement today, and I regret the lack of clarity on access for the public and on the protection for biodiversity and landscape.”
“I do not understand why we are cancelling a consultation when the new panel will need to hear and make its decision by autumn. It might be more logical to continue with the consultation for the remaining ten and a half weeks so that the public can continue to add their views to the current process.”
Tessa said “Following a massive amount of correspondence on the future of the forests, I lobbied Mrs Spelman. I am pleased she decided to listen and scrapped these ludicrous plans. I want to thank everyone locally for their efforts and valiant campaigning – ‘people power’ really works!”
Tessa did, however, express concerns over Defra’s next move. Talking to Kevin and Lorne from the Forestry Commission, Andy from the AONB and Chris during her walk in Stockhill Woods, she said “I worry about Defra’s intentions. Caroline Spelman did a fair job of apologising to the public, and rightly so. She did not, however, tell Parliament or the public how forests will be protected for the future. As an example, she said the sales and leases would be ‘on hold’ until the consultation was over, but then announced the consultation was being scrapped immediately. The situation is still confusing. Given the high levels of concern, people deserve to know what is happening”.
“I want to know what Caroline Spelman’s ‘independent panel’ will look like and I’d like clear assurances it’ll include relevant experts in the field. After my morning in Stockhill Woods, I am writing to the Minister to suggest that locally-based wildlife conservation expert, world-famous naturalist and broadcaster, Chris Sperring, should be a member of the Panel to ensure protection for biodiversity and the education work undertaken by the Forestry Commission at present.”
She added “I think it is very important that the public continue to let the Minister know the forests belong to the people.’’