CAMPAIGNERS are celebrating after the Government suspended the sell-off of public forests - but they warn that the battle must continue.

Caroline Spelman, Minister for the Departmentment of Environment and Rural Affairs, said in a statement to Parliament that she was going to 'suspend' the review on vast swathes of Forestry Commission land being taken out of public hands because of conerns over access and biodiversity.

The move means that the 15 per cent of the Forestry Commission land which was due to be sold off over the next four years has been suspended until April.

The public consultation is still continuing.

Mrs Spelman said: "The criteria for these sales will be reviewed so that protections are significantly strengthened following the inadequate measures that were applied to sales under the previous administration.

Pending this review, no individual woodland site will be put on the market."

Local campaign group Save Lakelands Forests, which has attracted nationwide support said it was 'vitally important' to keep up the pressure.

Spokesman Mike Morton said: "We think it is just a PR ploy.

"The Government realised that announcing the first woods to be sold during the consultation would have further angered the many thousands of people who have been signing the national petition, writing to their MPs and taking part in rallies.

"The danger is that people will wrongly think the Government has backed down and they can now relax. If we can keep the pressure up we believe the Government will abandon this policy."

Tim Farron, MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale called the decision a 'real win'.

He said: "It is real progress but it is not the end of the matter and people still need to make their views known.

"It shows that a public campaign really pays off and is a real testament to the people in the South Lakes who have made their voices heard.

"The extra safeguards will mean that these proposals will have gone from dangerous to pointless - they will now not save the Government any money, and we should therefore keep pressing so we get these plans cancelled.

"It is refreshing to see a consultation where the Government has listened, heard our message, and acted," added Mr Farron.

However, there is still concern about the Public Bodies Bill, which if passed in it's current form would enable the Government to sell-off up to 100 per cent of the Public Forestry Estate.

It is expected to be voted on in The House or Lords in the next two weeks and Lord Clarke of Windermere said he was concerned that unless clauses 17 and 18 are scrapped then privatisation could happen at anytime.

"It is a real dead cert that smaller forests in our area including Chapel House in Staveley and Claife Heights in Windermere would have been named as part of the 15 per cent sell-off.

"We have to defeat the Bill on the House of Lords floor and get the clauses out then the forests cannot be sold," he added.