What Happened During The "Hands off Our Forest" Campaign In The UK?

A "Hands Off Our Forest Campaign" protest.
A "Hands Off Our Forest Campaign" protest.

What Is The Hands Off Our Forest Campaign?

Hands Off Our Forest (HOOF) is made up of a group of organizations and individuals in the United Kingdom. HOOF members work to fight against the UK government’s attempts at privatizing publicly-owned forests in England, including large sections of the Forest of Dean. This forest is one of few remaining ancient forests in the country, consisting of 42.5 square miles of mixed woodland trees, with a long history of dispute among the government, public interests, and private interests. The goal of the HOOF campaign is to maintain the Forest of Dean as publicly owned and managed land by insisting that the government respect the Forest Act of 1981.

History Of The Hands Off Our Forest Campaign

The Forestry Act of 1981 gave the Forestry Commission the right to sell its managed lands. After some resistance from the public, the act was amended to exclude the Forest of Dean from potentially being sold. At the end of October of 2010, local newspapers began reporting that the government was considering selling the Forest of Dean to private businesses. Just 4 days later, on October 28, the Public Bodies Bill was introduced to the House of Lords, proposing new forestry legislation that would allow some areas of the Forest of Dean to be sold.

On the same day as the introduction of the Public Bodies Bill, the HOOF campaign group was founded and the government’s plans for selling public lands were confirmed by the Minister for Agriculture and Food. The public response to the news was nearly unanimous - it lacked support. An online survey, which has been signed by over 500,000 protestors, was even created to oppose the sale. The local Parliament member for the Forest of Dean, however, expressed his support of the bill, promising the public that the forest would remain protected under any new sale.

Hands Off Our Forest Success

In response to months of protests and campaigning, the government announced that it no longer intended to sell the Forest of Dean on January 27, 2011. Instead, it claimed that ownership of the forest would be transferred to charities. This change of direction, however, was not in line with the HOOF goal of maintaining the Forest of Dean as public land. Its members decided to continue pursuing its original goal and on February 4, 2011, when the Forest of Dean parliamentary member held a public meeting, 400 protestors showed up with only 2 days notice. The representative was escorted out of the meeting by the police.

HOOF’s first partial win came on February 17, 2011. On this day, the Secretary of State for the Environment admitted that the Public Bodies Bill needed to be ratified by removing the forestry clauses. In addition, the Secretary announced that future public land management issues would be discussed and decided on by an independent panel. Their assessment was to be presented to the government at a meeting of Parliament in autumn of the same year. HOOF promised to continue fighting until the government had completed its promise of removing privatization plans. In addition, HOOF members demanded to hold a seat on the independent panel once it was formed. At the end of February 2011, HOOF formed the Forest Campaigns Network in an effort to launch a wider campaign against privatizing any public land across the country. On March 20, HOOF organized a Celebrate Our Forests Day to raise awareness of the importance of public lands.


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