Origins of the Forestry Commission
The economic importance of forests and other woodlands was recognised from the fifteenth century in a series of statutes (beginning in 1483) aimed at the conservation of timber. Woods of the crown became the care of a special organisation headed by Surveyors General, but there was no government agency expressly charged with any general responsibility for forestry until the creation in 1889 of the Board of Agriculture whose functions included the compilation of statistics about forests and the fostering of instruction in forestry.
Between 1910 and 1919, the Development Commission under the Development and Road Improvement Act 1909, recommended advances from its fund for the promotion and encouragement of forestry in the United Kingdom.
In 1918, following the recommendation of the Forestry Subcommittee of the Reconstruction Committee, an Interim Forest Authority was established to make arrangements for forestry pending legislation setting up permanent machinery for the purpose. In 1919 this was replaced by a Forestry Commission established under the Forestry Act of that year.
History and functions of the Forestry Commission
The 1919 act gave the Forestry Commission the general duty of promoting the interests of forestry, the development of afforestation, and the production and supply of timber in the United Kingdom.
In furtherance of this duty the commissioners were empowered, subject to the direction of the Treasury to acquire and use land; to buy and sell timber and promote the supply and use of timber; to make grants and loans; to undertake, assist in, or advise on the management of privately owned woods; to establish woodland industries; to prepare and publish statistics and promote instruction; to conduct or assist research; and to make or aid enquiries for the purpose of securing an adequate timber supply in this country and promoting timber production in the Empire.
The powers of the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries and of the Scottish Board of Agriculture, in relation to forestry were transferred to the commission by this act. The commissioners could delegate their authority to assistant commissioners, appointed for England and Wales and for Scotland, and provision was made for consultative committees to advise and assist the commissioners.
The Forestry (Transfer of Woods) Act 1923 provided for the commission taking over by order in Council woods and forests controlled by the Commissioners of Woods and Forests and other departments. This was effected on 21 March 1924 in the case of the commissioners, who were subsequently renamed Commissioners of Crown Lands. By order in Council of 25 April 1941 the general duty of promoting the production and supply of timber under the 1919 act was transferred to the Ministry of Supply; it was subsequently transferred to the Board of Trade in 1946 and returned to the Forestry Commission in January 1950.
Under the 1919 act no minister was made responsible for the work of the commission, but among its members there was always an MP who spoke for it in the House of Commons. The Forestry Act 1945 altered its constitutional position, and MPs were no longer eligible for membership. The act rescinded the commissioners' power to acquire and hold land, and provided that lands required by them for forestry purposes should be thenceforward vested in the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries or, in the case of Scottish lands, in the Secretary of State concerned with agriculture in Scotland.
The commissioners were required, in exercising their powers under the Forestry Acts, to comply with such directions as might be given them by these ministers. The Forestry Act 1951 provided that the functions of the commission should include the general duty of promoting the establishment and maintenance in Great Britain of adequate resources of growing trees, and to that end gave them powers to regulate felling. In 1965 the powers of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in relation to the Forestry Commission were transferred to the Ministry of Land and Natural Resources but they returned to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in 1967.
In addition to its responsibilities for forest management and timber supply, the commission has as secondary objectives the provision of recreational facilities, wild life management, and the conservation of rural amenities.
In 1966 the Forestry Commission's accounting procedures were reorganised to distinguish between its two main functions (the growing, harvesting and marketing of timber, and the regulation of woodlands), and from that time, the commercial activities of the Commission were categorised in its annual reports under the heading 'Forest Enterprise' and its regulatory activities under 'Forestry Authority'.
In April 1992, the Forestry Commission underwent a major reorganisation, the primary purpose of which was to differentiate more clearly in the organisation of the commission its two main functions. Management of the forest estate and commercial activities were carried out by the newly established Forest Enterprise. The remainder of the commission was established as the Department of Forestry, consisting of a Policy and Resources Group and the Forestry Authority.