What is the Forest of Dean you want?
The Forest of Dean District spans 203sq miles from Sedbury to Hartpury and has historically been labelled as a park, but the Forest of Dean is more than this.
With over 4000's businesses paying business rates and some of the biggest names in their respective industries calling the Forest of Dean home, it's clear that the Forest of Dean has not strayed far from its industrial roots.
Balance between man and nature is key to a sustainable future for those who live, work and play within the District’s boundaries.
In 2018, The Forest of Dean District Council became the first rural council within the UK to declare a climate change emergency followed by a biodiversity emergency in 2020. With a goal for the District to be net-zero by 2030.
But how do we achieve balance?
In 2019, FEP were presented with the questions "what if the Forest of Dean became a Biosphere Reserve?"
Biosphere Reserves are an international designation allocated by UNESCO. These sites promote solutions reconciling the conservation of biodiversity with its sustainable use. They are learning areas for sustainable development under diverse ecological, social and economic contexts, touching the lives of more than 250 million people.
There are currently 714 biosphere reserves in 129 countries across the globe, with 7 within the UK.
Read more about Biosphere Reserves.
But what would this really mean for the District?
Presented with options, FEP dug deeper.
Members of the Office for National Statistics worked with FEP to research the economic effects of adopting a Forest of Dean Biosphere Reserve. Their report indicates that for every £1 spent creating a Biosphere Reserve the would be a £3.89 return on investment.
Read the full report.
The status would protect the Forest of Dean’s Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) and ancient monuments. It would not introduce any new sets of plans, but work with those already in place to drive sustainable development.
Reserves enable the community to work together to create a shared vision for future developments in their area.
This can include education and research, where local schools will be able to develop workshops and universities can carry out research on the Forest of Dean as a Biosphere Reserve. There is also potential for community-led projects such as sustainable coppicing that promote healthy woodland growth.
But there are some negatives.
A Biosphere Reserve designation can constrain certain activities within the District and have some negative effects, such as; constraints on developments and business expansions around the Site of Special Scientific Interest; Increase in house prices and the potential for over tourism.
The Forest We Want
Funded by Arts Council England and in partnership with Forest of Dean District Council, Forest Economic Partnership have set out to gauge public opinion on a Forest of Dean Biosphere Reserve and to provide information to people on what it really means.
Artists Steve Geliot & Elle Ireland were commissioned in June 2021 to produce a short film and audio on the subject. This is linked to a survey produced by Forest Economic Partnership to collate the publics views. The Survey closed on 18th December 2021 with over 600 responses.
Listen to the Podcast Here
Elle talks with Kevin Stannard of Forestry England about the impact of the climate crisis and the biodiversity crisis on the forest of dean and what needs to be done if we want to save and restore our forest
Steve Geliot talks with Rich Daniels of Hopewell Colliery about the ancient tradition of freemining in the Forest of Dean. They delve into the cultural history of the Forest of Dean and the importance of sustaining the industrial forest alongside the natural landscape
Steve talks with business women from across the Forest of Dean on the potential for business if the Forest of Dean became a Biosphere Reserve.
Special thank you to Harts Barn Cookery School, Leanne Pogson, Lizzie Whyte, Clare Vertigen, Sarah Taylor Phillips, Helen O'Kane and Mikki Liddiatt
Bonus Feature: Universal Rights of Nature, read by John Belcher of the Forest of Dean
Most people are familiar with the concept of human rights – but what about the rights of nature? This podcast episode is dedicated to the Universal Rights of Nature, read by John Belcher of the Forest of Dean
Listen to the full declaration here
The survey results are clearly and unambiguously in favour of the Forest of Dean becoming a Biosphere Reserve: 87% of respondents (282 highly likely, 163 likely) felt that the district would benefit from becoming a Biosphere Reserve, with only 5% disagreeing (11 highly unlikely, 17 unlikely) and 8% neutral. In other words, for every person opposed to the idea of a Biosphere Reserve, 16 are in favour.
Respondents felt that a Biosphere Reserve would be a better place to live, would enhance the relation between people and nature, would increase the emphasis on sustainability, and would encourage balanced development. It is unusual for a proposal for change to be so positively seen by local residents.
Concerns about Biosphere Reserve: There were many survey responses to the open questions, which will need to be taken into consideration when details of the Biosphere Reserve are fleshed out. Over-tourism is a key concern, although most of the survey responses use the term without specifying what is meant: too many visitors coming by car, day trippers, the impact of many cyclists, and housing being used for tourist accommodation seem to be the main issues. The economic report does not include any assumptions about changes in tourism, only about how the forest is managed, but a Biosphere Reserve could clearly draw in more tourists. It may be possible to keep the same number of tourists (or indeed fewer) but shift the emphasis to longer-stay tourism, more walking and cycling if managed well, and limits on housing being used for tourist accommodation.
Lack of affordable housing is another key concern raised by respondents, conflicting somewhat with concern over too much new development raised by others. The Local Plan is primarily responsible for this issue.
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