Spelman's forest U-turn: 'We got this one wrong'


Caroline Spelman issued an extraordinary apology yesterday as she scrapped plans to sell off England's forests, telling MPs: "I'm sorry, we got this one wrong." The Environment Secretary's act of public contrition helped to calm the political storm the Government provoked with its controversial scheme to offload 637,000 acres of woodlands from public ownership. Tory MPs, who had joined a national protest campaign that united countryside groups and all shades of political opinion, rallied around the embattled minister as she confirmed the policy U-turn.

Just 24 hours after David Cameron condemned the sell-off plans, she said she was halting the public consultation into the scheme, which had been due to run for another nine weeks, and was setting up an expert panel to look into forestry policy. She told the Commons: "I am doing so because it is clear from the early responses to the consultation that the public and many MPs are not happy with the proposals we set out."

Ms Spelman, who said she took full responsibility for the bungled scheme, received Mr Cameron's backing yesterday as Downing Street said he had full confidence in her and that she had not offered to resign. She was supported on the Government front bench by several senior ministers, including the Chancellor, George Osborne. Ms Spelman said the retreat, and her Commons appearance to announce it, was "not a question of humiliation – it is my choice". She added: "Humility is a good quality in a politician."

Mr Cameron, speaking yesterday as he launched the Government's welfare reform plans, said: "If you launch a policy consultation and you get a very strong and clear response, it is the right thing to do to be a listening government and respond to that."

But in a strongly worded onslaught on the Government, Mary Creagh, the shadow Environment Secretary, said: "The air is filled with the sound of chickens coming home to roost. The Secretary of State has discovered that her first priority – delivering the 30 per cent cut which she inflicted on her department – has a hefty political price attached to it.

"Half a million people have marched, mountain-biked and petitioned against her sale of the century. They objected to the once-in-a-lifetime offer to buy something that they already collectively own."

Under the plans, up to £250m would have been raised by selling the leaseholds for commercially valuable forests to timber companies, while charities and local authorities would have been allowed to take over woodland. Well-known "heritage" woods, such as the New Forest and the Forest of Dean, would have been transferred into the hands of charities.

There were warnings last night, though, that the fight to save England's woodlands was not over. Campaigners in the Forest of Dean said they would still be seeking guarantees that their woods would remain publicly owned and managed. The union Prospect said that even with the U-turn, the Forestry Commission's role was compromised by more than 400 job losses announced earlier this month.

The Woodland Trust warned better protection was needed for ancient woodlands, which are already under threat from development and planning reform, and the RSPB urged the Government to restore habitats damaged by conifer plantations.

Essay competition details

The future of our forests is a more relevant question than ever now, and we remind readers of our £5,000 essay competition announced yesterday.

How to enter Write an essay of between 1,500 and 2,000 words on the subject of "The Future of England's Forests". Email your entry to forestscompetition@independent.co.uk by midnight on 25 March 2011.

The prize A prize of £5,000 will be awarded to the writer of the essay which the judging panel considers the best.

The judges The judging panel will comprise Michael McCarthy, The Independent's environment editor; Oliver Rackham, academic and author of such works as The History of the Countryside and Woodlands; and Tony Juniper, former director of Friends of the Earth and senior executive at the Cambridge Programme for Sustainability Leadership. The judges' decision is final on all matters. No correspondence will be entered into.

Notification and publication The winner will be notified by email before 18 April. The winning entry will be published in The Independent (subject to meeting editorial standards).

Terms and conditions For general terms and conditions see www.independent.co.uk/legal

New Articles
tvDownton Abbey Christmas special
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: Stanley Tucci, Sophie Grabol and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvSo Sky Atlantic arrived in Iceland to film their new and supposedly snow-bound series 'Fortitude'...
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman as Clara Oswald in the Doctor Who Christmas special
tvForget the rumours that Clara Oswald would be quitting the Tardis
Arts and Entertainment
Japanese artist Megumi Igarashi showing a small mascot shaped like a vagina
The Queen delivers her Christmas message
newsTwitter reacts to Her Majesty's Christmas Message
Arts and Entertainment
Life and Style
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor


Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all