Hmm, rather a predictable bunch that meet typically narrow media stereotypes – not one real grassroots campaigner amongst them. Where are any of the non-NGO, non-celeb, non-commercial, non-luvvy & lunch-friendly, local activists who forced the Government into its first, major policy U-turn i.e. halting the sell-off our public forests? THE major conservation campaign victory of the past 20 years! Shame on you, Observer – should have been at least one short-listed nominee from Save Our Woods, Hands Off Our Forest! or any of the many small, local community groups that came out in defence of their patch of England’s public woods & forests!
This will not be the first nor last time that Education Secretary, Michael Gove has been compared to the fact-obsessed schoolmaster, Mr Gradgrind of Charles Dickens’ novel, ‘Hard Times’ (with its pertinent parallels to our present economic woes and government austerity programmes)[i]. Gradgrind opens the novel declaiming, “Now, what I want is Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts. Nothing else will ever be of service to them … Stick to Facts, sir!” Gove laid himself open to such a parody in his recent speech at a conference organised by the Spectator magazine[ii], where he stated that English school children were being held back and disadvantaged in comparison to their peers in the Asian ‘Tiger economies’ of China, Hong Kong, Singapore and South Korea due to our shorter school days and longer holidays.
The Countryside Restoration Trust (CRT) was founded in 1993 with the objective of creating a counterpoint and challenge to the increasing industrialisation of the food-chain. A relentless intensification of agriculture which was depleting our countryside of its characteristic wildlife and forcing tens of thousands of farmers off the land, with the consequent loss of the mosaic of smaller, family farms that had created that countryside and sustained its creatures.
January ended up being a good month for England’s woods and forests (Ash dieback notwithstanding). On 31st January, the Government set out its response to the recommendations from the Independent Panel on Forestry. Chaired by Bishop James of Liverpool (highly-respected as a green-minded churchman, and for his part in finally achieving justice for the victims of the Hillsborough disaster), the Independent Forestry Panel was set up in a panic by the then Secretary of State, Caroline Spelman after the country-wide protest by people from across the political spectrum and class divide against the Government’s original proposal to ‘dispose of’ (Whitehall double-talk for ‘flog off’) all 1,500 woods and forests that make up the public forest estate in England.