THE Government has scrapped proposals to sell or lease part of the New Forest.

Environment Secretary Owen Paterson has today confirmed that the Forest and many other areas of woodland across the UK will remain in public ownership.

And the Forestry Commission, which manages state-owned woods, will be given an extra £3.5m this year to help it look after Britain's trees.

The announcement was welcomed by the New Forest Commoners' Defence Association (CDA), which represents the owners of the ponies, cattle and donkey that roam the area.

Reacting to Mr Paterson's statement CDA chairman Graham Ferris said: “That's splendid news.

“The outcome is very favourable for the New Forest and is exactly in line with what we would have wished for.”

Mr Paterson's predecessor Caroline Spelman sparked a national outcry after unveiling proposals to dispose of publicly-owned woodland to businesses, communities and charities.

Campaigners claimed that public access to the New Forest and other recreational areas across the UK could be restricted.

The Government was forced to make a U-turn and set up an independent panel on forestry to examine the long-term future of Britain's forests.

Mr Paterson said: “I want to put the future of our public forests on a clear and firm footing.

“Our forests and woodland will remain secured in public ownership for the people who enjoy them, the businesses that depend on them and the wildlife that flourishes in them.”