"As President of the Campaign to Protect Rural England I am delighted to back our Gloucestershire branch's opposition to any sale of the Forestry Commission estate in the Forest of Dean. It is extraordinary that one of the country's most ancient forests - a place of great beauty that is enjoyed by so many people - is also one of its least protected. The Forest of Dean is immensely valuable to the nation. It should continue to be managed as a whole for the widest public benefit. I salute your efforts to defend this special area and wish you success."
Read the following articles to get up to speed with the facts...
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The Forest Riots were sparked by the 1808 Dean Forest (Timber) Act which required the enclosure of 11,000 acres of forest. Foresters were denied access to the enclosed areas and so were unable to hunt in them or remove timber. In particular, they lost their ancient grazing and mining rights.
After Foresters had endured much hardship for many years, Warren James finally called the Free Miners to action. A notice, dated 3 June 1831, instructed them to meet on the following Wednesday "for the purpose of opening the Forest".
On Wednesday 8th June 1831 a group of over 100 foresters proceeded to demolish the fences. Machen and about 50 unarmed Crown Officers were powerless to intervene.
On the Friday a party of 50 soldiers arrived from Monmouth, but by now the number of Foresters had grown to over 2000 and the soldiers returned to their barracks.
By Saturday night, there was scarcely a mile of unbroken fence in the Forest, but the next day reinforcements arrived from Doncaster and Plymouth and The Foresters’ resistance was overcome.
Warren James was arrested, and committed to trial at Gloucester Assizes on Monday, 13 August 1831. The judge sentenced James to death, but within two weeks this was commuted to transportation to Tasmania for life.
He was pardoned in 1836 but stayed in Hobart, presumably unable to afford the passage home. He died in1841just 10 years after the riots he instigated began.
Andrew Taylor (crime novelist)
Andy Rouse (wildlife photographer)
Baron Michael Bichard of Nailsworth (former chief executive of Gloucestershire County Council)
Baroness Jan Royall of Blaisdon (Labour Leader in the House of Lords)
Baroness Rennie Fritchie of Gloucester (chair of the 2Gether Mental Health NHS Trust in Gloucestershire)
Bill Bryson (author and president of the CPRE)
Bishop of Gloucester
Bishop of Guildford
Campaign to Protect Rural England
Cinderford Baptist Church
Cinderford Town Council
Coleford Town Council
David Bellamy (conservationist)
Dean Forest Voice
Drybrook Parish Council
Forest In Transition
Forest North Trefoil Guild
Forest of Dean & Wye Valley Clarion magazine
Forest of Dean & Wye Valley Review
Forest of Dean Brass
Forest of Dean District Council
Forest of Dean Friends of the Earth
Forest of Dean Labour Party
Forest of Dean Local History Society
Forest Youth Forum
Forestry Commission Trade Unions
Fountain Inn, Parkend
Friends of the Forest
Gabriel Hemery (forest scientist, director of the Sylva Trust)
Gloucestershire Geology Trust
Jonathon Porritt (environmentalist, director of the Forum for the Future)
Lord Clark of Windermere (former chair of the Forestry Commission)
Lord Denis Healey (former Chancellor of the Exchequer, his late wife Edna was from Coleford)
Lydbrook Parish Council
Lydney District Council
Mike Warburton (tax director from Grant Thornton and advisor to the Treasury)
Miners’ Arms, Whitecroft
Monmouth & Forest of Dean SOS campaign (save our services)
Music Industry Services
Public and Commercial Services Union
Rev Nick Bromfield (rector of Drybrook, Lydbrook and Ruardean)
Richard Wilson (actor, best known for Victor Meldrew of One Foot In The Grave)
Save Our Forests
Shoo Rayner (children’s illustrator)
The Gallery Cinderford
Trade Unions Congress
Tufthorn Inn, Milkwall
Unite the union
Viscount Bledisloe, Rupert Bathurst (family has owned Lydney Park Estate for 300 years)
Warren James Gang
Westbury-on-Severn Parish Council
West Dean Parish Council
West Gloucestershire Green Party
Wild Daffodil Project (of Kempley/ Dymock Forest)
Wyedean Mushing (sled dog racing)
Wye Valley & Forest of Dean Tourism Association
Get up to speed with the latest developments here
The Government has launched a public consultation on the future of the Public Forest Estate in England.This follows months of alarm in the Forest of Dean and other cherished forests.A range of options is set out in the proposals including plans to transfer heritage forests such as the Forest of Dean to charitable trusts. What does all this mean for the future of the Forest of Dean?. Read on.....
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Q What’s the Government doing?
A The Coalition Government is pushing through a Public Bodies Bill that will give ministers powers to dispose of the Public Forest Estate. It has also launched a public consultation into the future of the Estate. www.forestry.gov.uk/england-pfeconsultation
Q Surely the Forest is protected by a Royal Charter and age-old rights?
A These will be over-ridden by the new law.
Q But isn’t the Forest of Dean protected under a special 1981 exemption?
A An exemption from sale clause was agreed in 1981 after the previous campaign to protect the Forest of Dean.This clause will be removed under the current proposals.The Government has said that it will now amend its own Bill to guarantee that ‘heritage forests’ such as the Forest of Dean can only be transferred to a charitable trust or kept in public ownership.
Q When will this happen?
A The Public Bodies Bill is going through Parliament and may receive Assent later this year.
Q Was this mentioned in the election? I don’t remember voting for it!
A You didn’t! It wasn’t in either the Conservative or Liberal Democrat manifestoes. It wasn’t mentioned in the Coalition Agreement that formed the Government.
Q Isn’t there normally a Green Paper to consider such wider plans, then a White Paper, followed by a Government Bill?
A That has been the process in the past for such wide-ranging and radical ideas.
Q Why are they doing this?
A Local MP,Mark Harper, believes this will shift “the balance of power from‘Big Government’ to ‘Big Society’ by giving individuals, businesses, civil society organisations and local authorities a bigger role in protecting the natural environment and a much bigger say about our priorities for it.”
Q So it’s not about reducing the deficit and savingmoney.
A No! The plans will actually cost us a lot of money. Who says? The Government’s own Impact Assessment concludes that the costs will outweigh the benefits.The cost of transferring the land will be around £11 million in legal and land agent fees.
Q What are the options?
A Leasing of large scale commercial woodland 2. Community/civil society right-tobuy of multi-purpose, environmental and community woodlands sites 3.Transfer to charitable organi
Q Which option will apply to the Forest of Dean?
A Most of the Dean is classified as a ‘large scale heritage forest’ and therefore will be transferred to a charitable trust at no charge.
Q So it’s not a sell-off?
A We are told by Mark Harper that it is not a sell-off but a change of ownership.
Q What is the Forest of Dean?
A Not an easy question to answer.The Statutory Forest is marked with boundary stone and recent bollards and in 1981 this area plus some contiguous woods such as High-meadow, Clearwell and Hope woods was protected from sales. But we think of the Forest of Dean as larger.
Q So what will happen to the ‘red’ woods?
A They will be taken over by commercial firms.
Q What is happening to the Forestry Commission?
A The Forestry Commission has a team of professional staff who understand woodland management, bio-diversity and the maintenance of a public amenity. It does a good job in the Forest of Dean. In advance of the proposals to dispose of the Forest Estate, the Government has cut the income to the Forestry Commission. Up to 400 redundancies have been announced alongside a further sale of land under current laws. Unions have declared their determination to resist these cuts.
Q What will be left of the Public Forest Estate?
A The Government wishes to dispose of the entire estate.Most will be offered to commercial interest on long leases.A few other woodlands will be offered to local community groups to buy.The Forestry Commission will be a small agency to regulate forestry.
Q Could a charity afford to run the Forest?
A Not without considerable financial support. The Government has said that it will provide grants in return for “public benefits” but that the charity will have to “become less reliant on Government support over time.”
Q What do the woodland charities think?
A TheWoodlandTrust says: “While we fully support the concept of community ownership, we don’t believe that the charitable sector can be the solution to future care of all of the publicly owned heritage woodlands, as it will not have the resources to manage these for decades into the future without substantial and sustained government funding.We don’t believe the government has properly considered the feasibility of this option.”
Q Isn’t this aboutmore local control and management?What about a local charity?
A There is speculation over who might establish a local charity.These include builders, open-cast miners, developers and local landowners. Llamatrek businessman and local councillor,Alastair Fraser wants to spearhead a local trust to run the Forest.These offers demonstrate how difficult it would be to set up a local charity that represents the range of interests and competing claims.
Q What’s wrong with such plans?
A Fragmentation of forest ownership and management will increase costs and carry big risks. The Forestry Commission is big enough to employ specialists and to invest in sophisticated forestry equipment. It has centralised management of human resources, finance, IT and the like. A local charity would need to balance the conflicting and competing interests of those who use the Forest for pleasure and business.The local community is pleased with the way the Forestry Commission has handled these tensions.There are genuine concerns over how trustees of a small charity could cope with such pressures.
Q Couldn’t a local charity make efficiency savings or raise more money?
A A small charity would be less efficient than the Forestry Commission. Currently the more profitable forests cross-subsidise the rest. Care of forest would be at risk if professional staff were replaced with volunteers. Income could be raised through increased hunting and shooting and higher fees for fishing and other uses.The League Against Cruel Sports is alarmed by these plans and warns that it not just land and trees under threat but the animals and wildlife.Various leisure pursuits such as off-road driving and extreme adventure activities could be developed. The charity would need to take out public liability insurance (The Forestry Commission is so big it can carry risk itself).This could prove very costly.
Q Could more money be made from timber?
A There is not much profit to be made in small forests in the south of Britain and it seems unlikely that big commercial logging companies will invest much unless the rules were relaxed significantly.
Q What will happen to the timber industry?
A Some 145,000 people work in the timber industry.The Forestry Commission supplies the market with timber at a constant rate to keep saw mills going. Private forests tend to fell trees when the market price is high.Around two thirds of private forests are not actively managed.
Q Could more money be made from the coal and mineral reserves?
A The Forest of Dean is still rich with coal close to the surface.The most profitable way to extract it would be through strip-mining or open cast quarrying, a process that would devastate the valleys where the coal lies. Restrictions could be placed on the lease held by the charity to protect public benefits.
Q What would happen if the charity fails?
A Receivers would take over on behalf of creditors and would be obliged to secure maximum returns from the assets. Under the amended Public Bodies Bill the land or its lease would have to revert to public ownership or be passed to another charitable trust.There would be much legal argument about what constitutes the assets of the charity and how to value the lease, buildings and equipment.The Government may be forced to buy back what it gave away or settle the debts of the charity.
Q But who wouldmanage the forest if the Forestry Commission was only a regulator?
A Good question!
Q Will public access be protected?
A The Government says that public rights of way and access will be unaffected. But the Forest of Dean has very few designated Rights ofWay. Instead the Forestry Commission provides permissive access to the Forest.This access has to be managed including appropriate parking facilities, gates, walks, etc. It is hard to imagine how this could be guaranteed under new and different owners. The Ramblers Association are opposed to these plans. Even with the promises for heritage forests the Ramblers say that: “A large question mark hangs over the long term viability of maintaining the levels of access provided by the Forestry Commission by any new charitable body managing such woodlands.” QWon’t local planning rules protect the Forest fromunwanted development? AIt should do but the Government is also planning to relax planning controls.
Q The Government says that there is a conflict between the Forestry Commission’s role as regulator and supplier of timber. Is this true?
A In 1992 the Forestry Commission was split internally to avoid any conflict. It has worked well. No problems have been encountered.The Forestry Commission has 100% of its timber certified under the Forest Stewardship Council and is open to audit and public scrutiny in ways that private forests are not.
Q Could what’s left of the Forestry Commission be privatised?
Q How do we compare internationally?
England has the lowest ratio of public forests in Europe. Even the right-wing Government of Canada decided to retain forests in public ownership.
Q How will we control pests and disease in future?
A The Forestry Commission was established to provide the nation with a strategic control over timber production. It has a country-wide overview of the spread of pests and disease such as the increasing threat from sudden oak disease. Fragmentation of the Forest Estate will break-up such an oversight and mean the loss of specialists, researchers and those involved in public awareness campaigns.
Q I care about all the forests not just in the Dean.Are they now safe from sale?
A Once the Public Bodies Bill is passed the minister will not have to seek a Parliamentary Order to sell off the forest.Who says? The Chair of Environment, Fisheries and Rural Affairs Committee asked: “So that’s a once and for all legislative permit that you will never again as a Department have to come back for future sales of forestry or such?” DEFRA Civil Servant: “That is the intention.” Chair of EFRA Committee: “So you’ll never, ever again have to come and ask permission?” Secretary of State,Mrs Spelman: “We should not have to, no.” Chair of EFRA Committee: “So this is our one and only chance?” DEFRA Civil Servant: “Yes.” Jonathon Porritt has set out one scenario: “The Public Bodies Act will be on the Statute Book by the autumn.The Government can then start formally negotiating with private forestry companies regarding long leases. But, surprise, surprise, they decide not to play ball because they can’t make it work commercially. So this time next year,Mrs Spelman “regretfully” informs Parliament that the leasehold proposal hasn’t worked, and they are going to have to sell off the freeholds after all. Bit of an uproar, but there’s sod all our sad MPs can do about it.”
Q If it aint broke, why fix it?
A You’d better ask Mark Harper that one!
Q What can we do to stop it?
A Protest! Support the Hands off our Forest campaign. Sign the petition, display a poster, write to Mark Harper MP, House of Commons, London SW1A 0AA phone 01594 823482 or write to Public Forest Estate Consultation Co-ordinator Forestry Commission, 620 Bristol Business Park, Coldharbour Lane, Bristol BS16 1EJ email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Letters written before the consultation opened won’t count so please write again.
(click here to download a printable version)
The Hands Off Our Forest campaign, begun in 2010, is by no means the first time Foresters have had to battle for the Dean and for their right to survive within their woodlands. The battle between Crown and commoner, the landed gentry and poor, has been going on for at least 1,000 years – and from some people’s living memory against privatisation in 1981 and 1993/4. Read on...
The rights of freeminers and commoners – who not only grazed sheep, but pigs and cattle – go back to before recorded history in the Forest of Dean. Although we know the Crown seized the Forest – which then stretched from Chepstow to Tewkesbury – as a Royal hunting ground 50 years before William the Conqueror and the Normans arrived, we know Henry III gave commoners and freeminers some rights in 1244. It was Edward II who formalised freeminers’ rights with a Royal charter in about 1296 as a way of thanking Foresters for helping him against the Scots in Berwick-on-Tweed by burrowing under the castle. He noted they had existed for “tyme out of mind”. But from the 17th to mid-19th century Foresters were classed by the Crown as illegal squatters, and battled constantly for their rights, having their homes and livelihoods ripped apart time and time again. But Foresters always won their battles, even if it took decades. Here’s a brief chronology:
1612-13: The Crown granted powerful ironmasters large quotas of coppice and offal wood to use for charcoal, and allowed them to set up forges and furnaces; the Earl of Pembroke attempted to enclose areas of the Forest, but Foresters won a case against him in the Exchequer Court. The Court ruling permitted freeminers to continue to dig for iron ore “out of charity and grace, not right”.
1620-32: Charles I leased and sold large portions of woodland, resulting in riots in 1631-32 after Sir Giles Mortimer built three coal mines at the expense of freemines and commoning. Months of riots and destruction of enclosures were led by John Williams, who sometimes called himself Skimmington. He was eventually arrested by King’s officer William Cowse in March 1632. On Sunday April 8, when Cowse arrived at Newland church locals took revenge and beat him up. From then on, he needed an escort of guards to enter the Forest. John Williams was imprisoned in Newgate Gaol for five years.
1640-45: Two years after setting aside 4,000 acres for commoners, Charles I sold all the mineral and timber rights of the entire Forest to Sir John Wintour, who already owned the manor of Lydney. For the next two decades, the Forest fought monumental battles against the aristocrat. Sir John, unsurprisingly, took the Royalists’ side in the Civil War, while most Foresters supported the Parliamentarians. In 1642 and the following year, commoners demolished Wintour’s enclosures, and helped Parliamentarians in the Battle of Coleford. They were beaten away from attacking Wintour’s home, Whitecross Manor, by his wife Mary in 1644, but in 1645 Wintour burnt the place down himself, then laid waste to the Forest and fled to France. In retaliation, his iron works were destroyed and the Forest given to Cromwell’s man Colonel Massey.
1649-68: However, Foresters were subject to plenty of plunder and violence from Parliamentary troops, and in 1659 they rioted, burning down woods, ripping down fences and turning in their cattle after the Government tore down 400 cabins (the basic shacks Foresters often built in a day and a night) and enclosed 18,000 acres. Following the Restoration in 1661, Charles II re-established enclosures to produce shipbuilding timber, and reinstated Sir John Wintour. In 1662 Commoners petitioned Parliament to be allocated roughly half of the Forest as Wintour went about clear-felling at a rapid rate. By 1667, only 200 trees were left standing and more than 7,000 tons of timber destined for the Navy were discovered stolen by Wintour. Charles II responded in 1668 by passing an Act that removed ironworks, enclosed half the Forest, forced freeminers to pay for timber and forcibly removed all the squatters.
1707-36: Squatters’ homes were torn down again in 1707, but commoners enjoyed almost 30 years of non-interference from the Crown, until a treasury report discovered mass squatting on the Forest fringes and that most of the 11,000 acres of enclosures had been removed. There was extensive communing and cutting down trees under cover of night for use in mines and for firewood, with officials turning a blind eye.
1777-88: Foresters rioted and seized timber in Yorkley in 1780, three years after the Crown outlawed the Mine Law Court and destroyed many of its legal documents. In 1788, commoners were informed by the Crown that they had no rights, while a report claimed cottages and encroachments had doubled in 40 years
1795-97: The so-called Bread Riots involved starving Foresters looting farmers’ wagons bound for Gloucester market, and ships on the Severn for barley, wheat and flour, and distributing it among themselves. Previously, they had exchanged coal and wood for grain, until the Government bought up all farmers’ stock. In 1797, the Crown distributed free grain to starving and destitute Foresters.
1808-16: The Dean Forest (Timber) Act passed by Parliament, allowed 11,000 acres of woodland to be enclosed and the Dean and New Forest Act repealed all commoners’ rights, although the Forestry Commissioners (now the Forestry Commission) gave them ‘permission’ to enjoy rights and privileges. A report of 1810 laid into Foresters for “repeatedly destroying the new plantations, and terrifying the adjoining districts by forming riotous mobs.” In 1813, a report claimed 1,111 squatters were living in 785 houses and had encroached on more than 1,600 acres. From 1814-16 Edward Machen enclosed the 11,000 acres. Commoners were told they would be allowed grazing rights when the new trees had sufficiently grown.
1828-31: Several petitions to Parliament from commoners and freeminers, the third led by Warren James, between 1828-30, were turned down. In 1831, the Dean Forest Riots began with two small skirmishes and culminated in a mass protest in which 2,000 Foresters (out of a population of 7,000) demolished all the fences during a four-day wrecking spree. They were eventually stopped by armed soldiers called in from Dorchester and Plymouth. Warren James was transported to a Tasmania penal colony, never to return, despite being pardoned six years later.
1832-46: The Government began a detailed inquiry into the Forest, and in due course legalised settlements, passed a law formalised freeminers’ rights and opened up (dis-enclosed) fenced-off areas.
1924: Commissioners of Woods transferred management to the Forestry Commission –thus the Forest ceased being Crown property and became State-run
1965: Foresters were refused the right to register rights of ways and communing in the Commons Registration Act
1981: The Forest of Dean won an exemption in the first big Forestry sell-off of the 20th century. Its Conservative MP Paul Marland said: “I regard the possible sale of the Royal Forest of Dean and other Crown forests to faceless investors as a national disaster. The Royal Forest of Dean is steeped in ancient history and tradition. Today's forester is of the same independent mind and rugged character as were his forefathers. It is our duty to preserve his ancient rights and traditions.” His motion for an amendment to the Forestry Act 1981 was defeated in a House of Commons vote. The bill then passed to the House of Lords, when Lord Clement McNair was successful arguing for the same amendment, giving the statutory Forest and adjoining woods special protection. Marland said the Forest of Dean would be sold off “over my dead body”.
1993/4: In the second attempt at privatising the Forestry Commission which would thus enable woods to be sold off, John Major’s government backed down in the face of concerted protest, as well as some help from their MP, Paul Marland, and instead created a ‘next-step agency’ within the Forestry, Forest Enterprise, to manage the timber business.
2010: The future is unwritten – but if Foresters continue to fight for their rights, we can win once more, with or without our MP’s help...
This poem appeared in the Dean Forest Mercury 23 May 1884 and is as relevant today as when it was published. Read on.....
Arouse ye, free miners, who delve in old Dean,
And all ye freeholders with rights o’er its green,
‘Tis time to be stirring for danger is nigh;
And if ye bestir not, you’ll find by and by,
That truth, and truth only, is this I now tell,
They’ll suck out the egg if they once prick the shell!
Say will you surrender, or barter away,
Your father’s old charter – Twelve months and a day,
While yours, the bad bargain, to take what they please,
In rents and in taxes, in fines, and in fees.
Remember, free miners, yea, ponder it well,
They’ll suck out the egg if they once prick the shell!
Away with the Bill! ‘tis not needed at all,
‘Tis not what you asked for, it came without call;
Your ‘bit of waste land, at five shillings a perch’,
Is treated as nonsense, and left in the lurch;
Away with the Bill! Sound forth its death knell!
They’ll suck out the egg if they once prick the shell!
Be resolute, Foresters, honest and true,
Keep all that’s your own, give Caesar his due;
Heed not for a moment the men who deride,
And say that your egg has nothing inside;
For you know, and they know, only too well,
They’ll suck out the egg if they once prick the shell!
And ye who find pasture for sheep and for ass,
For pig and for pony, on good Forest grass.
Yield not your possessions, hold fast to your right.
Or soon it will vanish, with more, from your sight,
For easy enough it is to foretell.
They’ll suck out the egg if they once prick the shell!
Their Bill will delude you, will mock and ensnare,
Will do you some damage unless you beware;
It gives with one hand a scrap of a dole,
But takes with the other best part of the whole.
Oh yes, for an inch they will measure an ell,And suck out the egg if they once prick the shell!