Public concern is growing about the risk of a radical sell off of the publicly-owned woodlands currently managed by the Forestry Commission.
During the time of the last government, a public consultation found 80 per cent of respondents saw the forests as providing places for wildlife to live, 76 per cent as assisting with offsetting the affects of climate change and 53 percent as improving and protecting the landscape. Half saw them as providing places to walk. Whichever way you look at it, the majority response was far from a resounding mandate for a sale of state-owned woodlands to private, commercial and sporting interests.
The Forestry Commission currently leases some 45,000 hectares of woodland to 300 separate shooting groups. In a normal market, where only small blocks of woodland and sporting leases become available, such sporting leases add 20 per cent to the value of the woodland being sold, but, if there is a mass sale, prices are likely to be depressed and some blood-sports land purchasers will literally make a killing at public expense when the land is sold off at cheap prices.
For the super rich, forestry is a very attractive tax avoiding investment proposition, both in terms of tax during lifetime and as a way of mitigating the impact of inheritance tax.
Income generated from the ownership of commercial woodlands is completely exempt from income tax and corporation tax. Capital Gains Tax is not payable on the increase in the value of growing timber and is only payable on the land value gain and even those gains are nullified on death.
Provided the purchaser owns the woodland for more than two years after purchase, or being given it, no inheritance tax is due on death. On the one hand, we have the public interest in access to woodlands’ wildlife habitat and, on the other hand, we have blood-sports and legal tax avoidance for the super rich.
The new owners of woodlands will not want hordes of ramblers around in the middle of their privately-owned woodlands, disturbing the wildlife that they plan to shoot for sport. They will employ gamekeepers to look after their shoots and to keep the public, and other pests, under control.
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When people find that they cannot even go for a walk in the woods with their children without being turned away by a gamekeeper, there will be real fury.
We, the public, have a voice and deserve to have our views taken into account.
Let your MP and the government know what you think.
4 Collins Park, East Budleigh.