Forestry panel back public estate
There is a "continuing role" for a national public forest estate in England, an independent panel set up in the wake of the Government's sell-off U-turn will say.
In a progress report, the Independent Panel on Forestry says it is developing recommendations that will "increase the benefits generated from all forests in England".
The Government put on hold a sale of 15% of the forest estate in February amid fury about the wider forestry privatisation plans.
Bishop of Liverpool the Right Reverend James Jones, who chairs the panel, said: "Although our panel was born out of fierce debate over the future of the public forest estate, what has become apparent through our work so far is that we must look at the future of all woods and forests, not just the one-fifth managed by the Forestry Commission.
"Through the 42,000 responses to our call for views, the public expressed their passion for forests as a place of recreation, to connect with nature and as a vital source of resources.
"These responses, along with the many people we have met on our visits, have helped inform our report. For now, all of our work, especially in relation to the woods and forests outside of the public forest estate, needs further development in the run up to making recommendations in our final report next year.
"But, as ever, the panel are dedicated to further exploring these emerging themes."
Widespread opposition to the plans to transfer ownership of public forests, currently managed by the Forestry Commission, to businesses, communities and charities forced the Government into a u-turn on the policy. Instead, Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman set up the independent forestry panel to advise ministers on England's woodlands.
Mary Creagh, shadow environment secretary, said: "Labour welcomes this thoughtful report from the Independent Panel on Forestry, which reflects the views of some 40,000 people and their heartfelt concern and affection for England's forests. Our forests are a precious reflection of our national heritage, and will play a pivotal role in the green economy and our low carbon future."
Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman said: "I'd like to thank the Independent Panel for their ongoing hard work in shaping forestry policy in England and look forward to their full report next spring."