By Louise Gray, Environment Correspondent TDT 30 Mar 2011
In an embarrassing admission earlier this year, the minister was forced to back down from plans to change the law so the government could sell all the 258,000 hectares of woodland owned by the taxpayer.
"I am sorry, we got this one wrong, but we have listened to people's concerns," Mrs Spelmantold the commons in February.
But giving evidence to the Environment Select Committee, she admitted that the government would still go ahead with plans to get rid 15 per cent of UK woodland - the maximum allowed without changing the current rules.
It means some 38,700 hectares, will be sold off over the next five years.
Proposals to sell off the land have generated huge public opposition with one petition calling for the plans to be scrapped generating more than 500,000 signatures.
17 Feb 2011
12 Feb 2011
Another petition calling for ancient woodlands to be exempted from the sale, has been signed by 20,000 people in a week.
Those opposing the sale include Dame Judi Dench, Bill Bryson, the writer and film producer, Trudy Styler.
Mrs Spelman said the sale would raise £100 million for the Environment Department (Defra), which has suffered painful spending cuts as part of the Coalition's drive to cut the deficit.
She insisted the sale would be mostly commerical forests.
Once protection for access and other benefits of woodland had been addressed, she said "the planned sales will be in a position to resume within the period of the spending review, and won't have an impact on expenditure".
Dr Hilary Allison, policy director at the Woodland Trust, warned that there would be further protests if the sale is not carried out carefully.
"If these sales are to go ahead the government has to put condition on the sales so that public beneift - that is public access and biodiversity - are protected. We also expect to see the Government fufil its commitment to the trust not to sell PAWs [damaged ancient woodland sites planted with conifers which should be restored by the government]."
Mrs Spelman defended her earlier consultation on plans to dispose of the remainder of the public forest estate to businesses, charities and communities which provoked such widespread anger.
She said previous governments had already been selling off the public forests.
"I simply thought it was right to give the public the chance to be consulted about the future of the forest estate," she said.
The government has pledged that the public would not be prevented from enjoying the same activities as they do currently, while the land is in public hands.
An independent panel has been set up to examine the future of England's forests, which will ensure the sale of 15 per cent and any further reforms benefit the public.