HUGE swathes of woodland across Hampshire and West Sussex are to remain in public hands.
A final report from The Independent Forestry Panel rejected government plans to sell off England’s publicly-owned forest estate.
It means woodlands such as the New Forest and the Forest of Bere, which includes Queens Inclosure in Waterlooville and Havant Thicket, will remain in public ownership.
Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman pledged that ‘our forests will stay in public hands’ – more than a year after she was forced into a U-turn on a bid to privatise England’s forests following public outrage.
The Independent Panel on Forestry, set up after the outcry, said the estate should remain in public ownership as land held in trust for the nation.
Responding to the report, Mrs Spelman said: ‘We will not sell the public forest estate.
‘We’ll be talking to all those who are passionate about our forests to decide how we will manage our forests for the future.’
The independent panel said the public forest estate cost around £20m a year to the taxpayer – around 90p per household in England – but paid back an estimated £400m in benefits to people, nature and the economy.
Peter Skinner, Labour MEP for the South East, said: ‘The proposal to sell off and privatise treasured Hampshire woodlands was always barmy and totally out of touch.’