The Government will not sell the public forest estate, Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman said today, after an expert panel recommended it stay in public ownership.
The Independent Panel on Forestry was formed last year by the Government, after a huge public outcry forced ministers to abandon an attempt to dispose of the entire 258,000 hectare public forest estate to businesses and charities.
The panel's final report published on Wednesday is expected to say there is still a role for publicly-owned forests, emphasising the wide benefits to people's health, the environment and economy they deliver for just £20 million a year.
Early last year the Government published plans to privatise England's public forests, which make up just under a fifth of the country's total woodland area, by selling some woods to businesses and giving others to charities to run.
But the consultation over the plans, which even included proposals to sell woods to communities who enjoy them for free, had to be curtailed as public outrage forced a U-turn over the policy.
Separate plans to sell 15% of the public forest estate, the maximum that can be disposed of under current legislation, were also put on hold while the forestry panel conducted its inquiry into the future of England's woodlands.
The panel chaired by the Bishop of Liverpool published an interim report last December which said public forests were a "wonderful asset" that should be managed for the long term, not according to electoral time-scales.
It also said the the public forest estate cost a "very modest" £20 million, a very small level of funding in government terms, and delivered benefits far in excess of what it cost, making it good value for money.
It warned that while land could and should be bought and sold for the benefit of the whole estate, it should not be sold to make up for a shortfall in income, as had happened in recent years.
Ahead of the publication of the final report, campaigners called for the Government to invest more money in looking after publicly-owned woodlands to reverse declines in birds, butterflies and plants.