UK: Public Bodies (Reform) Blog 21: Who Cares About Taking An Axe To The Forestry Commission?

Last Updated: 25 January 2011
Article by Paul Thompson

This is entry No.21, first published on 24 January 2011, of a blog on public bodies reform. Click here to view the whole blog. if you would like to be notified when the blog is updated, with links sent by email, click here.

It is not often perhaps that as eclectic a bunch as the Sunday Telegraph, the Archbishop of Canterbury and such miscellaneous luminaries as Tracey Emin and Ranulf Fiennes make common cause against a government proposal.

But, as highlighted in the media over the weekend, a head of steam has built up, and is now being released, challenging the Government's proposals for selling off the Forestry Commission's English woodlands. Why just England? Because the devolved administrations have responsibility for the Forestry Commission in Scotland and Wales and, having no ideological problems with the principle of state ownership (if anything, quite the reverse), have no similar plans.

Defra issued its outline plans last October (see here) and has elaborated on them little since (which itself is part of the problem). A consultation paper is due out on Thursday. Then, in the next few weeks, clauses 17 to 19 of the Public Bodies Bill, which would give the Government enabling powers to implement a sell off and transfer by order, will be reached in the on-going committee stage on the bill in the Lords. Hence the current political and media activity. Those clauses are the subject already of numerous proposed amendments tabled in the names of Lord Greaves, Baroness Smith of Basildon, Baroness Benjamin, and Baroness Royall of Blaisdon, including both amendments to introduce new safeguards and amendments requiring the provisions to be deleted from the bill.

What is all the fuss about, particularly given the general unpopularity of quangos? The Forestry Commission, at least to date, does not seem to have the aura of a much-loved institution and its track record looks to be a bit mixed. Surely it could do, at the very least, with a degree of judicious pruning if not more more widespread re-shaping?

If it were just a question of people being committed to the principle of government ownership, one might also wonder why they are not also having a go at the National Trust and the RSPB (reported by Country Life last year as England's 2nd and 7th largest landowners respectively). Neither are government owned as such but, also of course, unlike the Forestry Commission, the Government is not proposing to do anything to them. Such landownings, as the government will no doubt argue, would seem to demonstrate that public protection does not necessarily demand public ownership, at least in the sense of government ownership, though maybe in the future, landholdings by such charities will be viewed much more as part of the public estate and will more routinely attract vehement criticism (remember the debate about the National Trust and fox hunting not so long ago).

No-one may greatly love the Forestry Commission but fear of change, particularly in the form of privatisation, is readily engendered, not least when issues about ensuring conservation and preserving public access are, or appear to be, at stake. Combine these ingredients with a widespread popular distrust of government in all its forms, deep-seated community attachment to particular local woods and forests and stir in allegations about selling off community assets to the highest bidder and it is easy to see how the campaign has taken off.

As it happens, the issue has also been picked up by that new phenomenon in our political firmament, the mobilised social network. "38 Degrees" in particular , a small web-based lobby group whose executive director, David Babbs, was fomerly head of activism at Friends of the Earth and which it is reported was also responsible earlier this month for the "Is George Osborne the most artful dodger" campaign, has produced an online petition which has attracted over 180,000 signatures (see here). Its own membership, it claims, is over 300,000 so very possibly the petition will attract many more signatures.

Now, we have the Save England's Forests campaign (see here) though, possibly for some, the celebrity status of some of its signatories may be something of a turn-off.

At the root of the matter is the difficulty which is at the heart of the Public Bodies Bill generally, namely that proposals are being brought forward and which require Parliament endorsement in principle without any of the important fine details being available for examination, modification or endorsement.

Will the Governmernt change its proposed stance or stand firm? We have yet to see what its detailed stance in relation to the Forestry Commission is but various reports (see eg Matt Ridley in the Times today) suggest that the sell-off in any event will favour community groups and bodies that guarantee public access and biodiversity, rather than just being a a sale to the highest bidder. If so, much of the current disquiet may melt away and groups such as the Woodlands Trust , arguably, will have little to worry about and much to gain. Then again, the Defra consultation will no doubt contain a number of things that cause further disquiet and also leave quite a lot still up in the air. And for those who really don't like the Public Bodies Bill, it certainly looks as good as any option to stand up and fight against the conferment of "Henry VIII" style order-making powers.

To view an informative House of Commons Library Information Note on the subject of the proposed sale, dated 6 January 2011, see here

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.