Hit or Miss? The Government's proposals to sell off forests

Ton of trouble

The Government's plans to sell off 15 per cent of all land owned by the Forestry Commission have been widely criticised since they were put out to consultation last week.

The National Trust has called the plans 'a watershed moment in the history of the nation'.

In a letter published in The Sunday Telegraph, the privatisation proposals were branded 'ill-conceived' by almost 100 dignitaries, including the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Meanwhile, at Commons question time on 3 February 2011, MPs from all sides of the House pressed ministers to guarantee that the public would still be able to access England's national forests after the land had been sold or leased.



Rule one. Don’t combine the words "forests" and "privatise" in one sentence. If you must, here’s four pieces of advice.

Firstly, anticipate the spiritual. Before the Enclosures, woods provided valuable scavenging ("by hook or by crook") for the landless. As school children know, the Royal Navy sailed to victory against the Armada and Napoleon with "hearts of oak". Protective feelings towards our forests remain hard-wired in our national synapses.

Secondly, privatising politicians should never walk alone in the woods. They must protect their flanks with endorsements (ex-ministers, foreign parallels, ideological supporters and the like). Initially it feels risky, but it builds up a Teflon coating.

Thirdly, your stiffest opponents will be local groups so you must build your case from the bottom up and mobilise detailed local rebuttal. Exhausting but critical. Your councillors can really help.

Lastly, don't forget Westminster. Beefing up Defra’s political comms with the appointment of the astute Amy Fisher as Special Advisor is a canny move. She should beware opponents lurking in the long-grass hoping for a moment of distraction.


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