The Woodland Trust at Fineshade
Many Friends of Fineshade are also members of the Woodland Trust and we are delighted to hear that the Trust has decided to withdraw from a relationship with Forest Holidays that had clearly become untenable.
The Woodland Trust is described as the UK's largest woodland conservation charity and the leading voice for woods and trees.
At the time when Forest Holidays and the Forestry Commission announced plans to develop a holiday village in Fineshade it was natural for local residents and supporters to look to the Trust for support. However, the Trust was at that time in a partnership agreement with Forest Holidays, accepting sponsorship from them. This relationship prevented the charity from making a formal response to the Fineshade proposals, although it later emerged that they were making informal representations, particularly in relation to the Ancient Woodland Boundary.
The difficulty of their position was laid out clearly by Austin Brady, the Trust's Director of Conservation and External Affairs in a web-post dated 15 September 2014 and updated 19 February 2015. It is recommended reading.
We have published on this website a page describing the Ancient Woodland Boundary at Fineshade and on that page we drew attention to the superb intervention of the Trust in getting Forest Holidays to withdraw from the newly designated areas of Ancient Woodland. However, we also high-lighted the way in which the Trust did not appear to have acted even-handedly in relation to its public response to the Fineshade application and for a similar nearby development where the Trust was concerned about the impact that cabins would have on the adjacent Ancient Woodland.
Following that we received this most welcome statement from the Woodland Trust's Social Media Manager:
The Woodland Trust’s working relationship with Forest Holidays recognised their aims to create holiday sites within appropriate forest environments. However, as our wider programme of woodland advocacy and protection continues to expand we must ensure our role as independent advocate, advisor and campaigner for our most valued woodlands remains clear. Therefore, we have decided not to renew sponsorship arrangements with Forest Holidays.
As a major shareholder in FH, and as the managers of these publically owned woodlands, we expect the Forestry Commission to take the lead role in ensuring an appropriate balance between the social, environmental and economic benefits they provide for society.
We hope that this will mean, were Forest Holidays to make a further predatory application at Fineshade, the Trust would be able to join with all the other conservation organisations (except, of course, the FC!) in opposing the development.
However, we notice that the second paragraph of the statement does perpetuate a misunderstanding about the Forestry Commission's ability to influence Forest Holidays. Whereas previously the FC could fairly be described as "a major shareholder", they now own only 18% of the shares, with Lloyds Bank Development Capital owing a controlling interest with 55%. So how far FC is able and willing to stand up to the company and protect Fineshade and our other publicly owned woodlands is a very important question.
But - well done the Woodland Trust for taking a brave and principled decision.