Forest sell-off policy to be axed

The highly contentious plans for a £250m sale of England's forests will be abandoned because of the public backlash that has hit the Government.

The Prime Minister signalled the retreat when he admitted he was unhappy with the proposals under which woodlands owned and run by the Forestry Commission would be sold off over the next decade.

The U-turn came after MPs and hundreds of thousands of members of the public joined the vigorous protests against moves to transfer 637,000 acres of woodlands into private ownership.

Mr Cameron, asked by Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, whether he was happy with his "flagship policy" on forests, said: "The short answer to that is no." With his comments, the Prime Minister effectively pre-empted the conclusions of a consultation exercise on the future of the forests which was due to run for another nine weeks.

The ferocity of the public reaction – with a deluge of protests – stunned Downing Street, which decided to draw a line under the policy early.

The Government has said that it will scrap the consultation and instead appoint a panel of experts to consider the future of publicly owned woodland.

Butterfly Conservation has been urging a rethink on forest salesand welcomes this news. It has also offered to help the new expert panel to ensure that biodiversity conservation is a major priority of future forest policy.