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No forest sell-off, government confirms

Posted 1 February 2013
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No forest sell-off, government confirms
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For many people, there are few better ways to spend a free day than to go walking in the woods. A trek in the forest offers fresh air, peace and quiet, exercise and a chance to spot some interesting wildlife.

However, this simple pleasure has appeared to be under threat in England over the past 18 months, since the government announced plans to sell off the Forestry Commission's estate. While the Forestry Commission's holdings in Scotland and Wales were swiftly ruled out of any inclusion in a proposed sale by the devolved administrations, fears remained that access to such woodlands in England were under threat. Now such fears can be forgotten.

Initial attempts by ministers to manage the situation by insisting access safeguards would be built into the bill were insufficient to persuade the doubters. Faced with a major public backlash with their plans, the government backed down. The then environment minister Caroline Spelman went as far as to utter words in the Commons few would ever expect to hear from a politician: "Sorry, we got this one wrong."

Ms Spelman's response was to set up a panel to consider the future of English forests. Its conclusion was that Forestry Commission land should be held in trust for the public permanently to ensure access, a recommendation current environment secretary Owen Paterson has announced will be adopted.

He stated: "Our forests and woodland 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.

"A new, independent body will ensure our woods are held in trust and managed for the long term benefit of future generations, nature and the economy."

Other aspects of the plan involve getting local people more involved in the management of woodlands, so those living near forests may get even more of a say and can be hands-on with it.

News of Mr Paterson's decision has delighted the Ramblers, whose former chief executive Tom Franklin was one of the panel members. His successor Ben Southworth said people could now "breathe a sigh of relief", while adding that more work needs to be done to achieve the goal of enabling everyone to be able to access local woodland.ADNFCR-2803-ID-801533192-ADNFCR