Leading article: Can you see the wood for the trees?

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The Independent Online

The Independent today announces a competition for the best essay on "The Future of England's Forests". With the Government in spectacular disarray, as we report today, over the partial sell-off it broached last month, we are confident that our readers can do much, much better.

It is true that not all forests in England are well-managed; nor are afforestation schemes everything they might be, with their uniform rows of conifers. But the extent of the Coalition's miscalculation was clear from the moment it mooted its ill-conceived privatisation programme.

The very notion that well-loved forests would be sold off to the highest bidder unleashed waves of righteous indignation. England may have lost far more of its ancestral woodland than, say, France or Germany, but perhaps that makes the popular sense of protectiveness all the greater. There is nostalgia, too: Sherwood Forest, the Forest of Arden, "The Woodlanders" occupy a special corner of English hearts.

Asked at Prime Minister's Questions yesterday whether he was "happy with his flagship policy on forests", David Cameron replied with a very clear: "No". It is over to you to envisage a future for our forests to which the answer would be "Yes".