English forests ‘to remain in public onwership’

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The Government has announced a shake-up of the running of public forests, after the huge row provoked by attempts to sell off the nationally-owned estate.

Environment Secretary Owen Paterson yesterday confirmed that the forest estate would remain in public ownership, and said a new, independent body would be set up in the longer term to hold the nation’s woodlands in trust for future generations.

The Forestry Commission, which currently manages the public forest estate, would be given extra funding of £3.5m this year to make up for lost income from selling woodland and allow it to look after the forests, he said.

An additional £2m has also been found from existing budgets to help the Commission cope with the extra pressure of dealing with Chalara ash dieback, a disease hitting the country’s ash trees.

The Government also outlined ambitions to expand England’s total wooded area from 10 per cent now to 12 per cent in 2060, to increase the amount of woodland which is well managed and to improve the economic performance of the forestry sector.

Mr Paterson’s predecessor Caroline Spelman sparked fury over proposals to dispose of publicly-owned woodlands to businesses, communities and charities, with the outcry forcing the Government into an embarrassing U-turn.

An independent panel was set up to examine the future of England’s woodlands. It urged the Government to pioneer a new approach to woodlands which valued and rewarded management, improvement and expansion of woods for all the benefits they provided to people’s health, recreation, wildlife and a sustainable economy.