The government today (Wednesday) said it would not sell the public forest estate after an expert panel called for the 258,000 hectares of woodland to remain in public ownership.

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Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman pledged that “our forests will stay in public hands”, more than a year after she was forced into a U-turn on a bid to privatise England’s forests following public outrage.

The Independent Panel on Forestry, set up after the outcry prompted by the bid to dispose of public woodlands to businesses, communities and charities, said the estate should remain in public ownership as land held in trust for the nation.

The panel said the government needed to value woodlands for all the benefits they provide for people, nature and the economy and to invest in the public forest estate to avoid having to sell off woods to balance the books.

Ramblers chief executive, Benedict Southworth, said: “Today’s announcement will be good news for the thousands of walkers and woodland lovers who protested against the proposed sale of public woodland last year.

“An Independent Panel, which included representatives from landowners and industry, has told us something that we all knew in our hearts to be true: all English people should have access to a walk in the woods.

“The aspiration of the report is one which not only sees the continuation of a strong Public Forest Estate but a future where every person has access to a local woodland - something which the ramblers has campaigned passionately for.

“We will continue to work to help make this aspiration a reality and urge the government to put concrete measures in place to move this vision forward.”

For more, and local analysis, see tomorrow’s paper.

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