Set our forests free

John Blundell argues in The Sunday Telegraph that the Forestry Commission should be abolished and its acres turned into lottery prizes

There is a rich comedy going on behind bureaucratic screens. Two mighty quangos, the Forestry Commission and Scottish National Heritage, want to experiment with restoring the extinct beaver to Knapdale in Argyle.

The project has been meandering on for more than 10 years and £1m has been spent on consulting fees. Still we have no beaver.

This touches a nerve for me. As a graduate of the London School of Economics I feel the beaver is my personal mascot. Sidney and Beatrice Webb chose the beaver on the LSE's logo as they regarded it as symbolic of socialist virtues. It lives collectively, making stupendous dams and enhancing every location occupied.

But I see the beaver as emblematic of liberal virtues. Yes, they collaborate, but voluntarily. Beavers are self-employed entrepreneurial creatures, not socialist drones.

While the Forestry Commission and Scottish National Heritage flounder on, Britain now has six colonies of beaver evidently flourishing. I think this little story illuminates a greater truth about our biggest landowner.

The Forestry Commission, like the BBC, is one of our last few unreformed nationalised industries. It ploughs on, or rather plants on, immune to criticism or real scrutiny.

For 11 months of the year we are unaware of it. In December we all feel the urge to buy fir trees. This is the only time in the annual cycle it makes a real profit.

I fail to understand why the vast estates of this mega-quango go unchallenged. Its very remote locations may be one excuse. Another is its adept camouflage as the friend of red squirrels, rare mosses and little bambis.

Why do we have this baffling institution? It is there to defeat Kaiser Bill. Yes, it was set up during the First World War to ensure our supply of pit props and railway sleepers. Since then no politician has dared touch this monster.

I have a jollier idea than auctioning it off to private forestry firms. Under my scheme they may end up the owners, but only after it has first been given away to its nominal owners - everyone.

We have all been taxed for 90 years to keep the commission in deep subsidy. My suggestion is that the National Lottery one Saturday be not for cash but trees. Let a few lucky folk win, say, Cardiganshire or Argyll. Lesser winners could enjoy the prizes of other forests and those who would normally be consoled with £10 for the right numbers could get 10-acre plots of Sitka spruce.

This would add to the gaiety of Britain and enrich a few lucky families who could enjoy these trees or sell them on for cash.

As for the modest but exemplary conservation ventures run by the commission, I say gift them to wildlife trusts. They would be better custodians of the few broadleaf forest