Friday, 4 February 2011

Forests...

Usually the blog is the first place I note my thoughts and opinions on an issue however on the recent Forest and Woodlands consultation I wanted to wait until after Wednesday when the matter was debated in the House.

I regard this issue as of paramount importance as not only am I a keen “user” of these important local amenities but I know from the large volume of correspondence I have received from constituents that we are all worried about our local woodlands such as Kielder, Wark, Redesdale and the various other smaller forests that we are lucky enough to enjoy in Northumberland.

I should make it clear that I live just outside Wark at the epicentre of the Wark, Kielder and Redesdale Forests. There is no question that Kielder and our other forests represent the green lungs of the North East, the heart and soul of the Northumberland countryside.

I have several fundamental concerns with the proposals.

i) Public access - I believe its crucial that all public access is safeguarded permanently. That for me is a deal breaker.

ii) Biodiversity - The long term environmental management of our Forests and Woods are vital. Our forests and woodlands are home to several sites of special scientific interests, Kielder is one of the last bastions of the red squirrel, an excellent habitat for many species of birds of prey as well as truly magnificent roe deer. This biodiversity must be protected.

iii) Jobs and industry - Each year 475,000 cubic metres of timber are felled to supply timber intensive local businesses such as Egger - the largest employer in the town of Hexham and Kielder itself is a key employer to many. This is a working forest with felled areas which are replanted to provide a continuous cycle upon which much of the employment in the North Tyne and beyond is dependent. Indeed it is the biggest employer in the area of the North Tyne. As it stands I;m concerned of the effect of these proposals on those jobs.

iv) Tourism and future investment - During my time as the Member of Parliament for Hexham I have worked closely with Northumbria Water, responsible for Kielder Water, the largest artificial lake in the United Kingdom which sits at the heart of the Forest. The development of these two vast resources, is already subject to a 25 year investment plan which has outdoor activities at its heart. Fundamental to this is access for cyclists, horse riders,and a host of other activities. I have major concerns that these plans, which will hopefully see an additional £31m boost to the local economy and 500 new jobs in the next ten years in an area where employment is far from guaranteed, will be put at risk.

I have already communicated with Caroline Spelman, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and her Minister, Jim Paice, to make them aware of the strength of local feeling on this issue.

In summary, the Government has published its consultation paper only - to set out a range of options for ownership or management of the forests in England which are currently run by the Forestry Commission (approximately a fifth of the total woodland area).
The consultation itself can be found here and is scheduled to run until the end of April, with the final report published this summer. If you have the time, I would strongly encourage you to submit your concerns via the web link to the consultation process, or use normal mail to get your point across using the address; Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), Nobel House, 17 Smith Square, London, SW1P 3JR.

The consultation runs from 27 January 2011 to 21 April 2011.

I have been assured that no final decisions will be made until after the consultation period, highlighting again how important it is to make your voice heard.