Forestry sale plans confirmed
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has outlined its plans to reform the public forestry estate, in a letter to MPs.
The proposal is that forests will be sold off to private and civil society partners.
The sale would provide extra money to boost public finances. There will be a public consultation later this year.
The Forestry Commission's estate covers 18% of England's wooded areas some of which are open to the public for their enjoyment and some of which produces domestic timber.
In the letter, environment secretary, Caroline Spelman said: "We will not compromise the protection of our most valuable and biodiverse forests.
"Full measures will remain in place to preserve the public benefits of woods and forests under any new ownership arrangements."
The fears over the sell-off are that large swathes of land could be sold off for development into golf courses, housing developments and commercial logging.
Speaking earlier this week, Green MP Caroline Lucas, said that the sale of forested land to private developers would represent 'an unforgiveable act of environmental vandalism'.
In a statement about the government proposals, The Woodland Trust expressed concerns about future of ancient woodland sites. Chief Executive, Sue Holden, said:"Ancient Woodland is our richest and most fragile habitat, our equivalent of the rainforest.
"Restoring 20,000ha of ancient woodland would be the one of most significant contributions the UK could make to worldwide nature conservation; the proposed sell off must not become a barrier to this significant achievement."
DEFRA has insisted that it is committed to biodiversity and will protect forests for public access and rights of way.
"We will not compromise the protection of our most valuable and biodiverse forests. Full measures will remain in place to preserve the public benefits of woods and forests under any new ownership arrangements". Alison Brown