Government confirms it will not sell public forests

The government has said it will not sell off publicly owned forests in England, bowing to public pressure and advice from the Independent Panel on Forestry.

Environment Secretary Owen Paterson said that the government accepted many recommendations including the formation of a new independent public body to hold in trust the nation’s forests for future generations.

This new group will work alongside the Forestry Commission to maintain and safeguard forests on behalf of the public, said a Government spokesman, who added that recent pests and diseases underlined the need for stronger protection.

"The policy sets out an ambition to expand wooded areas, increase the amount of woodland being well managed, maintain and improve access to our public woodland and improve the economic performance of the forestry sector", the spokesman said.

Paterson said: "I want to put the future of our public forests on a clear and firm footing. Our forests and woodland will remain 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. We all care passionately about our woodlands, which is why I share the panel’s vision.

"Our woodland economy has the potential to create jobs and growth, and the action plan the forestry industry is establishing will set out a road map to achieve that. Most importantly of all, we need to look after this precious resource."

The Government said Paterson had made tree health a top priority for Defra and established an independent plant health task force run by Dera’s chief scientific adviser, Professor Ian Boyd, to bring together the best scientific evidence.

A Government statement said: "The policy published today sets out how the Government is already giving a greater priority to tree health research, including an additional £1m of funding announced in September 2012.

"In addition, the Living With Environmental Change Partnership will use £4m of Defra funding, £0.5m of additional Forestry Commission funding and up to £4m additional funding from research councils to do in-depth research into tree diseases.

"We have increased the Forestry Commission’s budget by £3.5m next year specifically to make up for lost income from sales of woodland and have also allocated them £2m to recognise additional pressures arising from Chalara."

The Government said it would also help woodlands to become more economically productive by:

  • working with landowners to ensure that woodland is being managed sustainably to increase production whilst conserving wildlife
  • backing the new industry-led action plan being developed by the forestry sector to grow the domestic wood market
  • working closely with a range of groups to encourage local people to get involved in managing their local woodlands.

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