In the past hour, environment secretary Caroline Spelman has confirmed that the consultation on the sell-off of Forestry Commission land has been halted.

She apologised to MPs in the Commons, saying: “I am sorry, we got this one wrong, but we have listened to people’s concerns… I now want to move forward in step with the public.”

Mrs Spelman also announced that an independent panel of experts will examine forestry policy in England and report back to her in the autumn.

The Environment Secretary said: “I would first like to say that I take full responsibility for the situation that brings me before the House today.

“Let me make it clear that we have always placed the highest priority on preserving access and protecting our forests.

“But the forestry clauses in the Public Bodies Bill, published well before we launched the consultation, gave the wrong impression as to the Government’s intentions.

“That is why I am today announcing three steps which will allow for more measured and rational debate about the future direction of forestry policy.

“First, I have taken a decision to end the consultation on the future of the Public Forest Estate and I take full responsibility for that.

“I am doing so because it is quite clear from the early responses to the consultation that the public and many MPs are not happy with the proposals we set out.

“Second, the Government will support the removal of the forestry clauses from the Public Bodies Bill, currently at committee stage in the House of Lords.

“And thirdly I would like to announce that I am establishing an independent Panel to consider forestry policy in England. It will report to me with its findings this autumn.

“The Panel will advise me on the future direction of forestry and woodland policy in England, on the role of the Forestry Commission, and on the role of the Public Forest Estate.

“The Panel will include representatives of key environmental and access organisations alongside representatives of the forestry industry. I will shortly publish its membership and terms of reference.

“If there is one clear message from this experience, it is that people cherish their forests and woodlands and the benefits they bring.

“My first priority throughout this period of debate has been securing a sustainable future for our woodlands and forests.”