The Voice Of The People Of The Forest of Dean
To All Rt. Hon Lords and Ladies
House of Lords
I am contacting you all to ask for your help in protecting the Forest of Dean from any sell-off or disposal as is proposed by the present Government. The last time that the Forest of Dean was under similar threat (1981), it was saved by your Lordships with powerful and passionate arguments for our exemption from the proposed Forestry Legislation.
A very large percentage of the population of the Forest of Dean are concerned, indeed quite alarmed at the proposals to take the Dean out of Government control through the Forestry Commission. With this in mind we are asking you to support the deletion of the Forestry Sections of the Public Bodies Bill currently passing through the House of Lords. The Forest of Dean is a unique area and as such was granted exemption from the 1981 Forestry Bill.
The recent industrial history of the Forest of Dean is that of a coal mining area, but unlike any other area the deep mines were situated within the woods (the Statutory Forest) themselves. Consequently the small towns and villages that accommodated the miners and their families developed on the outskirts of and within the perimeters of the Forest.
Today the deep mines are gone and there are just a few free miners working the coal outcrop. On the pit head sites themselves many of the buildings are now used for small businesses some of which utilise the timber and the clay that lies under the surface
The area that is forested is an area of trees, businesses and dwellings. It is unique. The Statutory Forest is regulated by several unique statutory laws, and also subject to both common and customary rights relating to turnout (pasture).
The Statutory Forest of Dean is integral to the Forester and to his identity. It exclusively accommodates the rights of common, and the boundaries follow the outline of the iron ore crop over which the Forest of Dean Free Miners hold the exclusive fee simple right to mine the iron ore and coal deposits and with less exclusive rights over stone, clay and sand.
Forest of Dean Free Miners are unique, as is their protective legislation. The Dean Forest Mines Act, 1838 is the only Public Act ever to confirm a local custom into statutory law.
There is no other place quite like it in the UK, and the Forest of Dean does not always sit well with national policies and guidelines, which no matter how well intended, often contain potentially destroying factors that can outweigh any benefits.
In November 1999 A Team from the (then) Countryside Agency (now Natural England) visited the Forest of Dean as part of an investigation into the granting of "Special Status". The members commented favourably on the ways in which their perspectives on the Forest of Dean changed as a result of the visit.
The members visited the Cannop Valley, an area that illustrated the impacts that small scale coal mining and quarrying have had in the Forest over hundreds of years. Such activities, they said, blend into the Forest Landscape and are regarded as part of the area's heritage by the local people.
By travelling through towns such as Cinderford, and the villages of the west and south, members saw how closely these patterns are integrated with the forested areas. The area is relatively isolated and members realised how this isolation, although problematic, was also a benefit in maintaining a strong sense of local identity and of industrial and cultural heritage.
They realised that the Forest of Dean is UNIQUE and said so. The Statutory Forest is administered by the Forestry Commission. Over the years a trust and an understanding has grown up between the Foresters and the Commission. There is not always complete agreement, but the Forestry commission has maintained a good balance between commercial forestry and the needs of exercise and recreation.
It is because it works that we wish it to continue. We do not want to be sold off or run by a charity which, however well meaning, would have to start the process of understanding the Area, the People, the Customs, the Heritage, the Forest Laws, the Culture and the Traditions of the people of the Forest of Dean. Should you feel that you can support our request, the majority of the people of the Forest of Dean, and elsewhere will be for ever grateful to you.
4 Wilkes Meadow, Broadwell, Coleford Glos GL16 7DT