Hello! I’m one of the 38 Degrees staff team – and I’ve been working on the forests campaign over the last 24 hours. Here’s a personal reflection on how great the last day has been and why 38 Degrees members are so important in protecting our forests:
We’re constantly fed the idea that people feel hopeless about the environment, can’t see a way to intervene in a political system that ignores the natural crisis we face, and that the future is looking bleak.
Well, the last 24 hours have shown that we can have hope. Until last night, the government were about to sneak through a part of the Infrastructure Bill which would’ve cleared the way for forests getting sold off and built over. A hidden part of a sprawling law would have made it legal for the government to hand any public land – except that owned by the Crown Estates – to the Homes and Communities Agency, ready for building.
Over 150,000 38 Degrees members signed a petition in a day calling for the forests to be excluded from the Infrastructure Bill. Thousands of people kicked up a Twitter storm in just a few hours, tweeting peers to exclude forests.
People-power did what it does best, and forced a massive government u-turn which will see forests protected in law. Late last night, Lord Ahmed announced there will be a new amendment tabled which will see the ‘Public Forests Estate’ excluded from any sell-offs of land.
The proof that we were on to something was in the government’s knee-jerk reaction. They said that the government’s ‘intention’ was not to sell off the forests, and they said they wanted to keep them in public ownership. But words are just words until they’re law, and promises from ministers are no match for an Act of Parliament that will stay on the statute book for decades.
Forest campaigners – of which we’re just one among many – have been fighting to protect forests in law for a long time. Back in 2011, over 500,000 38 Degrees members forced the government to back down on plans to privatise them.
38 Degrees campaigns on lots of different issues, but the response to these proposals was extraordinary by anyone’s standards: this was the fastest growing petition we’ve ever seen.
So why do forest campaigns inspire such an impassioned response from thousands of ordinary people? Because woodland is used by everyone, and needed by everyone. No one wants the government to make a profit out of something which belongs to all of us, and no one wants to live in identikit towns without forests, woods or wildlife.
But forests are also a symbol of the bigger challenge we face when we fight to protect the environment. This is a fight about long-term conservation over short-term profit. And it’s a fight to protect something that’s taken centuries to grow, and can be destroyed in a decade.