Forest Sale Minister Felled as Renewables Sceptic Takes Job

She weathered the storm of the 2011 government U-turn on the sale of the Public Forest Estate and formed the Independent Panel on Forestry whose final report was delivered in July (see page 8), but it wasn’t enough. This month Caroline Spelman was ousted as Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in the Prime Minister’s cabinet reshuffle. Spelman is replaced by former Northern Ireland secretary the Rt Hon Owen Paterson MP as environment minister. It is a controversial move.

On the one hand you have the National Farmers Union welcoming North Shropshire MP Paterson’s appointment, given his credentials as the Conservatives’ shadow agriculture, fisheries and food minister from 2003-2005.

On the other you have environmental supporters praising Ms Spelman for her commitment and urgency to tackling climate change, but citing that her successor does not. Mr Paterson’s advocacy of badger-culling as a controversial measure to limit bovine tuberculosis and his opposition to renewable energy are just two of the charges being levelled against him. In a damning blog on the Guardian website, well known environmental and political activist George Monbiot declared: “The final shred of credibility of ‘the greenest government ever’ has been doused in petrol and ignited with a casual flick of a gold-plated lighter. The appointment of Owen Paterson as environment secretary is a declaration of war on the environment.”

Commenting on Mr Paterson’s appointment, ICF Executive Director Shireen Chambers said: “We are at a crossroads in forestry where government was beginning to listen and understand the important role forestry and the natural environment can play in making David Cameron’s government ‘the greenest ever’. I hope that Mr Paterson gets up to speed quickly on these issues but I am not hopeful that forestry will be a priority for him.”

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