Fears Forest of Dean will be turned into ‘climate change-themed Centre Parcs’

By Carmelo Garcia   |   Local Democracy Reporter   |
Wednesday 15th June 2022 8:59 am
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The Forest of Dean
Councillors fear the Forest could be turned into a ‘climate change-themed Centre Parcs’ (Forestry England )

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Fears are mounting over a bid to achieve internationally recognised environmental reserve status for the Forest of Dean would turn the area into a “climate change-themed Centre Parcs”.

Forest of Dean District Council leaders recently approved recommendations to progress with the next phase of considering the statutory forest as a Unesco Biosphere Reserve.

Council chiefs say they made the decision after a public survey found that more than 90% of residents said the main aims of biospheres, which are conservation, a sustainable economy and promoting learning and education about the local environment, are important to them.

But some local councillors are concerned the move could lead to restrictions to ancient Forest customs and rights such as commoning or freemining.

Cllr Thom Forester (Independent Alliance, Mitcheldean, Ruardean & Drybrook) says the way the consultation results were presented to the public was disingenuous and an “absolute insult” to Forest residents.

He fears the Forest would become a “climate change-themed Centre Parcs”, if the proposals go ahead.

He said: “Less than 500 people from the Forest were surveyed – and yet we are told that the ‘vast majority’ of Forest residents are supportive.

“As Sir Charles Dilke famously said in 1891, false statements might be arranged under three headings: fibs, lies, and statistics.

“This has never been voted for by district councillors, and yet a few cabinet members have decided to ignore the democratic process and push ahead with it regardless.

“The Forest would be divided into various land-use zones, and Unesco would decide where human activity is permitted and where it is not.

“Economic activity within the ‘reserve’ would be tightly restricted, many areas would be deemed ‘zero human activity’ other than tourism which is of course nonsense from a wildlife or woodland management perspective.

“Restrictions on access to certain parts is also a very real possibility, as is the loss of customary rights like commoning and freemining, which might be ‘permitted’ but only in areas Unesco deems suitable.”

A spokesperson for Forest of Dean District Council said Biosphere Reserves are a way of bringing together residents, communities, businesses and organisations, encouraging them to collaborate on projects that benefit an area’s economy, environment and biodiversity in a sustainable way.

This could be through smaller scale projects such as helping a local school set up its own orchard and market garden, or wider, long term projects such as exploring new renewable energy projects, according to the council.

“Biosphere Reserves also promote increased learning and education of the local environment with schools, colleges and universities – giving them the opportunity to find out about the wildlife in their area and the chance to study and conduct their own research to further enhance the area’s biodiversity,” the spokesperson said.

“Biosphere Reserve designations do not give any authority or ownership of their areas to Unesco, they acknowledge how local communities intend to sustainably manage their environment for the good of the local economy and communities.

“They work within already existing national frameworks, together with the regulatory and policy-making functions of local authorities to help protect biodiversity and local economies.

“There are currently more than 700 around the world, with several successful ones here in the UK, including in North Devon where projects have included improving the water quality of the River Taw and Dyfi in Wales where one of their most recent projects has focused on getting communities involved with local food production and distribution.

“Following an initial public consultation last year run by the Forest Economic Partnership ‘the forest we want’, cabinet agreed to further explore the potential of a Forest of Dean Biosphere, by evaluating the pros and cons that it would bring to the area and consulting with existing biospheres in the UK.

“This approach is as set out in the council’s corporate plan (2019-23) which was approved by full council on December 5, 2019. The full survey was published by the Forest Economic Partnership* and attached to the recent cabinet report.

“More research needs to be carried out together with further public consultation before full council would make a decision as to whether it would support an application or not.”

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