UPDATE: Britain Halts Sale of Public Forests

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Here at Ecocentric, we’ve been covering the British government’s plans to sell of national forests—and the huge public backlash to the plans. Today, David Cameron backed down, as his Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman announced to MPs in the House of Commons that she was halting public consultation into proposals to sell 650,000 acres of public forest by admitting ‘we got this one wrong.’

The U-turn comes just three weeks into a 12-week consultation on the sale, which ministers insisted would actually protect so-called ‘heritage forests’ such as the Forest of Dean and the New Forest. Under the proposals, such forests were to be offered to charities, while ‘locally important’ woodlands would have been offered to community groups. The rest could be sold on the free market.

But the plan angered the British public–more than 8 out 10 disapproved and some 500,000 people signed an online petition calling for a halt to the sale.

It’s rare that such a groundswell of public discontent actually has an effect on government environmental policy. But promising to sell off Britain’s forests hit a nerve, even though 90 percent of the U.K.’s population is based in cities and towns. At Prime Ministers Question’s yesterday, the opposition gave Cameron a good old-fashioned British grilling over the affair. According to an account in the Daily Mail:

Labour leader Ed Miliband seized on the issue at question time in the Commons yesterday, asking the Prime Minister: ‘Can you tell us whether you are happy with your flagship policy on forestry?’

Mr Cameron replied: ‘The short answer to that is no.’

Labour MPs reacted by shouting ‘Timber!’

And thus fell Tory plans for the privatization of Britain’s forests.