Photographs of Thorpe woodlands, their varied habitats, plantlife and wildlife all taken by friends and supporters. most taken between 2010 and 2013

Saturday, 19 February 2011

People Power works!

As everyone must know by now, the government has been forced into an embarrassing U-turn on their plans to sell-off the Forestry Commission's woodlands. Caroline Spelman, the Environment Secretary, publicly apologised on Radio 5 for 'getting it wrong'. It is very unusual for anyone in government to admit to having been wrong about anything, but the scale of public outcry about their privatisation scheme was so overwhelming that they were faced with little choice but to make the best of a bad job. "We have listened to what the public have told us and acted accordingly", said Ms Spelman.

The overwhelming pressure to scrap their plans arose largely through the efforts of 38 Degrees, a fairly new campaigning group which has developed a huge internet following. 38 Degrees started an online petition that grew to over half a million signatures, as well as encouraging tens of thousands of people to write to, email or phone their MPs. They also raised enough money to pay for adverts in national newspapers and a YouGov opinion poll that showed that 87% of the public were strongly opposed to the sell-off. All of this grew from the inspiration of a handful of well informed and highly organised campaigners. Many other groups were of course involved - these are credited on the 38 Degrees website
(  ) but it was 38 Degrees' brilliant initiative that really did the trick.

38 Degrees recognised the public's heartfelt appreciation for woodlands and knew that, given an easy way to register their disgust at the proposed sell-off, large numbers would seize the opportunity. But even they were taken aback by the scale of the response, and under such pressure the government could only try to spin their climbdown into appearing to illustrate their willingness to heed public opinion.

Thorpe's woodlands provide an example of the threats that our public forests would have faced if they had been sold. Racecourse, Belmore and Brown's woods are recognised as important biodiversity sites for Norfolk and are treasured by thousands of local people - yet these facts mean nothing to their owners, who would happily tarmac and concrete over the lot if they could.

The success of the 38 Degrees campaign shows all who are striving to protect woods and other habitats that people power can work. However, it needs to be harnessed with great efficiency and in very large volume in order to be as successful as was the case here. This campaign's success has sent a powerful message, not only to the government but to all local authorities, that people love woodlands and care passionately about them.

Our woods in Thorpe remain under threat. The fact that the campaign to save them is so enthusiastically supported by the local councillors is very good, but we must recognise that there may be other members of Broadland District Council, and possibly some officers, who don't yet share their enthusiasm. If the owners (Thorpe & Felthorpe Trust) submit a planning application, the fate of the woods will ultimately hang on a vote of less than 20 planning committee members. If planning permission is given, there is no right of appeal other than a judicial review in the High Court. We must therefore do all we can to create a 38 Degrees-style avalanche of opposition when the time comes.

Opportunities for the public to make their voice heard will arise over the course of this year, when BDC start consulting on the various development planning policies they must produce, following the GNDP Joint Core Strategy inspector's report (expected very soon). Friends of Thorpe Woodlands will be ready to inform everyone when the time comes, but in order to do the best job possible we need your help. If you can spare some time delivering leaflets, door-knocking, forming an email tree, or if you have any ideas or suggestions, please contact us (see Lorna Beckett's email address at top right of screen - its probably easier to write it down or copy & paste than try clicking on it!).

38 Degrees takes its curious-sounding name from the angle of incline needed to start an avalanche. They certainly started one against the forests sell-off. The government could call itself 180 Degrees as this is how far out of alignment with public opinion they were on this issue. They should be making moves to compulsorily purchase private woods whose owners don't respect them, not trying to sell those the public already own!

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