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Huge areas of woodland to be sold by government

Great swathes of Britain's forests are to be privatised, it emerged last night.

Caroline Spelman, the Environment Secretary, will give the go-ahead to sell half of the 1.85m woodland acres run by the Forestry Commission.

It is thought the plan, which is likely to anger conservationists, will pave the way for many more golf courses, adventure playgrounds, and Centre Parcs-style resorts. Laws dating back to Magna Carta are likely to be rewritten to allow the woodland sale.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) suffered one of the worst settlements in the spending review, losing a third of its £2.9bn budget.

Ms Spelman has made clear her intention to act radically to attempt to make up the shortfall. A third of the land is expected to be disposed of before 2015. The remainder will be sold or given to community groups by 2020.

However, Allan MacKenzie, the secretary of the Forestry Commission Trade Unions, said: "We will oppose any land sale. Once we've sold it, it never comes back. Once it is sold, restrictions are placed on the land which means the public don't get the same access to the land. The current system means a vast amount of people can enjoy forests and feel ownership of them."

A Defra spokesman said: "We will ensure our forests continue to play a full role in our efforts to combat climate change, protect the environment and enhance biodiversity, provide green space for access and recreation, alongside seeking opportunities to support modernisation and growth in the forestry sector."