Thursday, February 03, 2011

Letter to my MP on selling off the woodland

Okay, so I appreciate that this blog is supposed to be about learning, but it might be argued I learnt something about how I feel about this while penning a missive to Stephen Williams, my local LibDem member of Parliament. I was inspired by an article on what the forest sell off might mean to Bristol MTBers.
Throughout my life I've had opportunities to spend lots of time in forests - hiking, barbecuing, playing in streams, bird watching and mountain biking - though a son of this city I grew up in the Shropshire Marches and spent many weekends and evenings in the local woods with my friends and family. They are a playground I have returned to time and again.

And I can hardly think of a time when I haven't done so on land managed by the Forestry Commission. So it causes me great anguish to know that this government, that I in part voted for, and encouraged people to vote for - to vote for you - is now suggesting that it sell off the trees and neuter an organisation I have immense respect for.

I'm not some dumb-ass hippy tree hugger who would care more about what happens to a tree than a person. But it is this action more than any other that causes me to feel aggrieved by what I voted for.

What annoys me is that by deigning to flog off this land, and special entity that lives upon it, this government appears to indicate that it believes it owns this land. No, the government holds it in trust for the people that legitimise it. Sure, keep people off the nuclear base at Faslane, or away from motorway construction sites - there are greater needs in the public interest at work - I accept that - but don't sell off the trees.

In particular, these days I go mountain biking locally near Ashton Court and at locations around Wales. These places are graded amongst the best locations for the sport anywhere in the world - mile after mile of wonderful man made trails that develop riders' skills and test them again and again. Each week thousands of riders make the same trips to these places, spending money in local shops and cafes, staying in local hotels and pubs. In the afternoons, as they stream off the hill, they share the same broad grin and look of satisfaction at a day on earth well spent.

But none of these centres would be feasible if private landowners had to meet the costs of insuring for the sport. Only the FC is able to do this. Without the FC these trail centres would close, and the tourism they attract, month in, month out, would die out. Taking precious money from already poor regions (like the valleys of South Wales) and robbing people of a fun and healthy past time.

It's easy to see now that Beeching's solution to the size of the rail network was woeful and short-sighted. Stephen, don't let your parliamentary colleagues make a similar terrible mistake - one that will live in infamy far beyond your time in the Palace of Westminster.
Hmm, will try not to be too political again for a while. I'll leave that to Twitter.


Antony said...

Hey Dan,

Good to see other people who care about the future of our forests.

I think you're spot on that the main issue isn't forests getting logged or destroyed - although mismanagement and exploitation will certainly be easier if accountability passes to hundreds of different owners, instead of one central body - but that an organisation which does a good job of getting people to enjoy woodland, and manages it well, is being decimated for no good reason.

You will almost certainly get a response from your MP stressing that the reforms give communities the chance to own a forest, and this is somehow "better" than them being managed by a central body, funded by the taxpayer (who do they think funds charities or community groups?!)

The reality is that overstretched and under-funded organisations will have to take on the responsibilities that were previously the FC's, and the government gets to drop some more token expenses from its balance sheet.

On the bright side, there are some private trail centres which manage to keep going despite overheads like insurance, and the reforms haven't been proposed for Wales - yet.



Dan said...

Hey Anthony, thanks for the comment.

I'm not dogmatically opposed to private enterprise where it can do good, it's just hard to imagine anyone really doing a much better job than the FC. I'm really hoping that Stephen will adopt a more independently minded position, but since he is a junior spokesman he will probably find it hard not to toe the line. A great shame.

Which are the private trail centres around here? I'm really only familiar with the ones off MB-Wales. Growing up near Snowdonia I'm inclined to view most the hills in England as entirely inadequate and only really cope with South Wales' hills out of respect for their northern cousins, so I don't tend to bother looking else where.

And I promise that this year I will come and volunteer for some trail digging duty - I owe it to repair the lines I've ridden.

Antony said...

Private trails in England tend to be DH or freeride orientated - Redhill Extreme near Forest of Dean is probably the nearest example to Bristol.

Pay-to-ride really hasn't caught on in the wider MTB scene (and why should it, with so many great places we can ride for free). The only XC venue I can think of in England is this one in Wiltshire.

See you on the trails some time!