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Forests and Woodlands

Volume 527: debated on Thursday 12 May 2011

9. What steps her Department is taking to encourage greater community involvement in the running of local forests and woodland. (55095)

I recently had the privilege of planting a tree with the Friends of Kingfisher Country Park, the Tree Council, Keep Britain Tidy, BTCV and local tree wardens to mark the milestone of 100,000 trees planted as part of our big tree plant. Since the launch in December, we have helped local communities and civil society partners across the country to plant trees where they live and work.

I thank the Secretary of State for her reply. In January 2000, ownership of Brandon wood in my constituency passed from the Forestry Commission to the Friends of Brandon Wood and became the first community woodland in England. Since then, volunteers have worked hard to provide a network of footpaths for all-weather and all-ability walking throughout the woods, and local schools have been involved. Will the Minister ensure that the Independent Panel on Forestry fully considers the benefits that can arise from local ownership of woodlands such as that of Brandon wood?

I am sure Members know this, but I should perhaps point out that my hon. Friend has a degree in estate management, and his constituency is therefore very blessed given its appetite for engagement in community forestry. Brandon wood is one of the best examples of community forestry, and I suggest that my hon. Friend should pass it directly to the IPF, because that panel is open to all members of the public, and part of its work will involve going around the country. He has an excellent opportunity to commend this example to the panel.

Does the Secretary of State agree that one of the best ways of getting local people further involved in woodland management would be by progressing the wood fuel strategy? Responsibility for that now lies with her colleagues in the Department of Energy and Climate Change of course. Several months ago I had a meeting with the Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change, the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker), at which it was agreed that the programme could be doubled, but that it was important that both Departments work together on this because it is important that both demand and supply are matched up and incentivised.

The hon. Gentleman is right to point out the potential of wood fuel as part of a portfolio of renewable energy sources. We work very closely with our colleagues at DECC on this matter. We share a vision for the role of renewable energy, and I will address the wood fuel strategy with my DECC colleagues.

I doubt that the Secretary of State will be aware of Nottinghamshire police’s efforts to clamp down on antisocial behaviour in one of my woodlands in Sherwood, but does she agree that opening up woodlands to members of the public for the right use serves to drive out such antisocial behaviour?

I can well imagine the problems. I suspect that every Member has some woodland in their constituency, so we will all know that that environment can, from time to time, attract the unwelcome attentions of those who perpetrate antisocial behaviour. It is therefore all the more important that people in our communities are vigilant and active in the right use of woodlands and green spaces, so that, as far as possible, we stamp out the antisocial behaviour that spoils them for everyone.