The UK government has shelved controversial plans to sell off public woodlands to the private sector. Environment secretary Owen Paterson responded to a report that hailed the woodlands a "national asset."
The government will instead create a new public body that will hold the nation's forests in trust for the foreseeable future. The report, by an independent panel on Forestry, called for England's woodland cover to be increased from 10% to 15% over the next 40 years.
It was back in October 2010 when the coalition government signalled a desire to sell off large swathes of public forestland in England. Almost immediately the plan created widespread outrage and criticism, with an online petition attracting more than 500,000 signatures opposing the idea.
Government ministers then abandoned the idea of any public consultation and set up a panel of independent advisers, which would outline the future direction of forestry and woodland in England. It also advised the government on the role of the Public Forest Estate and the Forestry Commission.
The original idea to sell off large chunks of the nationally-owned estate has proved to be an embarrassing U-turn for the government, with the then environment secretary Caroline Spelman admitting, "We got this one wrong," reports the BBC.
The shadow environment secretary, Mary Creagh, criticised the government for cutting funding to the Forestry Commission and slashing 500 jobs in the process, "They are ideologically incapable of planning for the forests' future as their plan for a disruptive merger with the Environment Agency and Natural England in the middle of the ash dieback outbreak shows," she said.