The long-awaited report by the government's forestry panel has delivered its verdict - that not only should the public forests not be sold off, but they should be held in trust forever to ensure public access.
In an announcement of its findings, the panel said legislation should be passed to ensure this, while also calling for government investment in the forests - which would increase the level of tree cover in Britain from ten per cent to 15 per cent by 2060.
Chair of the panel, the Bishop of Liverpool James Jones, said: "There is untapped potential within England's woodlands to create jobs, to sustain skills and livelihoods, to improve the health and wellbeing of people and to provide better and more connected places for nature."
The importance of access for those who like to go walking
in woodland was a key feature of the findings, stating: "The public forest estate is the single largest provider of outdoor leisure and recreation in England."
And while 82 per cent of forestry in England lies outside the public estate, the panel found that incentives to open up access may be successful, with nearly a third of owners interviewed by its members saying this could prompt them to enter access agreements.
In response, environment secretary Caroline Spelman said the government will now consider the report and give a full response in January next year, but she confirmed that the public forest estate will remain in state ownership.
The report was welcomed by the Ramblers, whose former chief executive Tom Franklin is a member of the panel.
A spokesman for the walking charity 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."
The panel was established following the announcement of plans to sell off Forestry Commission land by Ms Spelman last year and the subsequent dropping of such plans amid widespread public opposition.