Having dropped a policy allowing English woodland to be sold to the private sector, the government is now committing instead to preserving it for future generations

State-owned forests in England will not be sold off and the government will create an independent public body to hold them in trust for future generations.

Environment secretary Owen Paterson announced in January 2013 that a previous policy of selling off 15% of the public forest estate to raise funds was to be dropped.

The plan, first outlined in October 2010, would have seen heritage woodlands such as the New Forest offered to charities and commercial forests sold to the private sector on 150-year leases. It was opposed by 84% of the public and criticised by Dame Judi Dench and Dr Rowan Williams, then Archbishop of Canterbury.

Mr Paterson said the new body – the Independent Panel on Forestry (IPF) – will own, maintain and safeguard England’s forests, working alongside the Forestry Commission.

“Our forests and woodlands will remain secured in public ownership for the people who enjoy them, the businesses that depend on them and the wildlife that flourishes in them,” he said.

The U-turn was a victory for campaign group 38 Degrees, which collected more than 538,000 signatures protesting the original proposal.

The new government policy includes expanding wooded areas, maintaining and improving access to public woodland and enhancing the sector’s economic performance.

An extra £3.5m will be awarded to the Forestry Commission next year to compensate for lost income from sales of woodland, while a further £2m will help deal with pressures caused by ash dieback disease.

The Rt Rev James Jones, Bishop of Liverpool and chair of the IPF, said: “This is a recognition that the public benefits that flow from forests and woodlands have a legitimate claim on the public purse.”

Photo title: The government has announced that it will establish a new independent body to protect public forests

Photo credit: © Steve Cadman