The Charter of the Forest – Carta de Foresta – published in 1217, is recognized as the first official act that extends the protections and essential rights of the Magna Carta to the English commoners against the abuses of the aristocracy. Under this charter, the people are guaranteed the right to access forest resources. The impact of this charter has been revolutionary. It is generally considered one of the cornerstones of the British Constitution and inspiration of the American Constitution (2). It has made it possible to render vast expanses of land to the peasants, to oppose the plundering of the common goods by the monarchy and the aristocracy. In the 17th century, it has inspired the Diggers and Levellers and later protests against the enclosure of lands by the capitalist bourgeoisie. But it was repealed in 1971 by a conservative government, allowing the privatization of resources such as water for the benefit of multinational companies.
Today, forests remain essential resources for housing, food sovereignty, and are essential for fighting environmental crises. A campaign to celebrate the Forest Charter began in Britain in September and continues in November. The Lincoln Record Society has organized an international conference on the Charter of the Forest that began with a houseboat trip on the River Thames from Windsor to Runnymede, the place where was signed the Magna Carta. Experts presented the Charter of the Forest, its history and its contemporary implications. Participants were also able to see one of the original copies of the Forest Charter and participated in a guided tour of the Forest of Sherwood that (in France) we know through Robin Hood story.
Today, there is a debate chaired by the Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell MP, with Professors Peter Linebaugh and Guy Standing, and Julie Timbrell of New Putney Debates. This debate is part of a week-long program (6) calling for the creation of a new Domesday Book, a national census of UK landowners and the identification of the common goods as well as a new Commons Charter and Communities Charters. This is to question the notion of land ownership in a country where it is one of the most concentrated in the western countries, and to elaborate proposals, including a possible tax on land ownership, for a better distribution of rights and responsibilities to land.
Thanks to Yves Otis for reporting the article Why You’ve Never Heard of a Charter as Important as the Magna Carta
Transcript of the Forest Charter: http://www.constitution.org/eng/charter_forest.html