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Forest of Dean omitted from protected landscapes in recent announcement

6th July 2021

The Government and Natural England have announced four new protected areas, and a new programme to increase our protected landscapes

CPRE Gloucestershire welcome this new programme and its potential to bring nature and people closer together. However, we argue that the Forest of Dean should have been included as a designated protected area and we were sorely disappointed to see it omitted from this new protection programme.

CPRE Gloucestershire have been calling for the Forest of Dean to receive designated AONB status for some time. The Forest of Dean has been recognised as deserving protected landscape status since before WWII. 42 square miles of its ancient woodlands were designated our first National Forest Park in 1938, and alongside the Wye Valley, it was recommended for designation in both the Dower and Hobhouse reports of 1945 and 1947.

In 1959, the National Parks Commission started formally to review the Hobhouse recommendations for the Forest, but local political and economic interests within the Forest then stood against the proposals. Councillors, and possibly the Coal Board, feared that designation would hamper plans to extract coal and other mineral deposits. This was born out when, in 1996, the published Gloucestershire Minerals plan included proposals for large-scale mineral extraction in the Forest. However, continued public protest led, in 1998, to the new Labour Government asking the Countryside Commission to produce a report on ways to protect the Forest. That report recommended it should become “an enhanced AONB”.

In recent times the entrepreneurial spirit of Foresters has led to a growth in tourism based on the natural beauty of the area, and the Forest has become one of the principal visitor destinations for people in Bristol and the West Midlands. In 2018 the Forest, excluding the Wye Valley, received 2.3 million visitors.

Simon Murray, Chair of CPRE Gloucestershire’s Forest of Dean committee said:  

‘Our National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs) are the crown jewels of our countryside – with living, working communities at their heart. We firmly believe the Forest of Dean meets the criteria for new designated landscapes, being not only an outstanding area of natural beauty, but with its strong free-mining traditions, socially and historically it is very different from many of our National Parks and other AONBs.

‘Being near major centres of population it provides easy access for recreation in forest and rolling countryside, and as one of the most densely forested areas in the country, it makes a real contribution to mitigating the climate emergency.

‘Whilst we welcome this new programme which will work towards the Government’s target to protect 30 percent of land for nature by 2030, we are sorely disappointed that the Forest of Dean has again been overlooked, and we will continue to work towards designation of the Forest of Dean as an AONB.’

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