Plants: easier to love than people

I am pleased that the coalition is about to announce that they’re shelving their plans to sell off the UK’s national forests. Of course I am. It’s good news that they will remain in public ownership, protected (one assumes) from the more unconstrained vagaries of the market, and hopefully allowed to continue quietly growing and peacefully sheltering what remains of our wildlife.

But, well, forests aren’t people, nor are they vital public services, and if I were to be given the choice I can’t help thinking that I’d rather save NHS jobs, education funding and, yes, libraries, over woodlands. It’s doubtful that the forests would have been immediately chopped down to make way for motorways had they been sold off: as I understand it this wasn’t a question of saving the trees themselves, but of preserving the woodlands’ status as public property. It’s absolutely worth doing and I’m glad the proposal has been reversed, but I’d still prefer to divert the money into, to take an example from this morning’s news, midwifery services in the West Midlands, which are so underfunded that it’s been suggested that one third of perinatal deaths last year could have been prevented had community midwives not been working at 150% of their recommended caseload. By all means let’s look after the trees, but if we have to decide where to make cuts, it would be nice if we could look after the people first.

On the Today programme this morning it was announced that the proposal to sell off the forests had come under attack from public figures “including several actors and the Archbishop of Canterbury”. Forgive me, but if we ever reach the time when we take our political cues from actors and the Archbishop of Canterbury, we’ll be in straits so dire we may never make it back again.

(Incidentally, that Guardian piece contains an account of a debate on the subject between Ed Miliband and David Cameron which, if it’s accurate, suggests that not only are we all going to hell, we’re being led there by a cabal of schoolboy bullies:

Yesterday Miliband mocked Cameron over the plans. The Labour leader said: “Even he must appreciate the irony: the guy who made the tree the symbol of the Conservative party flogging them off round this country. He says they are consulting on this policy. They are actually consulting on how to flog off the forests, not whether to sell off the forests. Is the prime minister now saying that he might drop the policy completely?”

Cameron replied: “I would have thought the whole point about a consultation is that you put forward some proposals, you listen to the answer and then you make a decision. I know it is a totally alien concept but what is so complicated about that?”

Miliband said: “Everybody knows you have to drop this ludicrous policy. Let me give him the chance to do it. Nobody voted for this policy; 500,000 people have signed a petition against the policy. Why doesn’t he, when he gets up at the dispatch box, say not say he is postponing the sale but say he is cancelling it?”

Cameron replied: “Once again, he read the question before he listened to the answer. I think the bandwagon has just hit a bit of a tree.”

I mean, really. Heaven help us all.)

5 thoughts on “Plants: easier to love than people

  1. jim5et

    One the one hand, yes, of course you’re right and it’s depressing that in the general wave of brutalising marketification crossing the land it’s only trees and libraries that unite the middle classes. On the other hand, Haldon Gateway stays open ( and the bike tracks stay free so whoo-hoo

  2. If you in a quandary over whether the money raised would be better spend on NHS etc – which is a valid point, perhaps this will ease your mind:

    If this is to be believed, then the taxpayer would have actually lost more money that the sale raised!

    I’m glad to see the opposition to this succeed, if only because I feel we have yet another
    government with too many millionaires in the cabinet (23 out of 29 I once read) too many rich friends. I wonder who would have bought the forests and profited from them? I doubt we would have to look too far.

  3. elsiem

    Concrete examples of goodness do help to make the point that yes, it is still good news. I signed a petition last week against the reduction in numbers of park rangers in Lambeth, which also probably shouldn’t be top of the list of things that matter, but just because something *isn’t* saving lives doesn’t mean it’s not important. Plus Lambeth Parks are the only green some people ever see, and I think seeing green is key to mental health. So it’s not as brutally black-and-white as I’ve painted it.

  4. elsiem

    Sorry, posted that reply before I saw Charlie’s comment – that article is an interesting read, thanks. And I take your point about the cabinet. Perhaps they could now each donate some money to the newly-invigorated Forestry Commission…

  5. It’d be nice to see, though somehow I’m not holding my breath! I hope now that with some proper thought, the forestry commission can find profitable, yet sustainable ways to manage the forests. I’ve recently turned my hand to woodworking so can appreciate all the more how careful we have to be with our tress – so many species have already disappeared. Yet with careful management these forests can be a huge investment for the future (have you seen the price of quality wood?) – sure it’s a very long term investment (at least 50-100 years for hardwoods) but with the right care we can ensure that we both have pleasant forests full of wildlife, as well as a resource we can carefully harvest to help pay for the upkeep. I just don’t see commercial companies doing that – not when the quick payoff is to cut it all down, sell the wood and build a golf course.

    Here’s hoping. Mild-rant over. 🙂

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