Here’s a summary of some of what I’ve done in this role of Forest of Dean advocate so far:
* January 2011: Conceived and led a small organising team in organising a successful Hands Off Our Forest rally at Speech House, attended by 3,000 or more people. Result: February 2011, the Government made a U-turn on its proposals to sell off some or all of the English Public Forest Estate (including the Forest of Dean)
* March 2011: Helped organise and host the inaugural meeting of the Forest Campaigns Network, also at Speech House, featuring groups from across England. Result: This platform enabled us during the next few years to meet with national policy-makers and the Government, to help us establish a “triple bottom line” or target equilibrium with the Government, where public access, conservation and business were all given equal weighting. We were also able to influence the Independent Panel on Forestry’s final recommendations, for a restructured Forestry Commission which is more accountable to the public and communities (we’re still pursuing this aim).
* From 2013 was appointed Secretary of the Hands Off Our Forest campaign (I was previously publicity officer).
* July-November 2014: Campaigned for and managed to get an exemption within the Infrastructure Bill (now Act) for the Public Forest Estate (including the Forest of Dean), to prevent public land being transferred to the private sector for development. (Unfortunately, we did not manage to defeat the fracking clauses, nor prevent public land outside the Public Forest Estate from transfer schemes).
* August 2015: Was asked to join the admin team of Frack Off Our Forest following the announcement the Government was considering granting Petroleum Exploration and Development Licences covering the Forest of Dean (in December 2015, the Government formally offered the licences to South Western Energy).
* February 2016: Met with Government energy minister Lord Bourne and officials from the Oil & Gas Authority, Department of Energy and Climate Change at the House of Lords (the meeting was arranged by Jan Royall, Baroness of Blaisdon) to directly put our case against fracking forward. While we did not manage to persuade the Government to withdraw licences, we are still on the case and have an ongoing dialogue with decision-makers.
So we have won some battles, and some battles we have yet to win. If we had not campaigned, for instance, we might have lost our public ownership of the Forest of Dean. At best, it would be run and managed by a private trust; at worse, there could have been ‘keep out’ signs adorning the woodlands we love and cherish.
But the current battles – both against fracking and for the custodian of our Forest, the Forestry Commission, to be less wedded to Government policy and more accountable to us all, the public who have equal ownership of the Forest land – have been underpinned by many, many hours of research and the compiling of documents in response to consultations, for example, or to raise public awareness. I have been the chief researcher and writer for the campaign since 2012.