The government has temporarily suspended the sale of 40,000ha of public forest which had been announced in the spending review.

The government stressed that the suspension related to the sale of a total of 15% of public forestland already agreed to be sold and not to the current consultation on the remaining 85% of Forestry Commission land.

It said the sale, expected to generate about £100m, had been suspended to ensure extra protections on access and biodiversity were put in place. “Once this has happened, the sales will go ahead,” it said.

Environment secretary Caroline Spelman said better protection measures were needed following “inadequate” measures that were applied to sales under the previous government.

“Pending this review, no individual woodland site will be put on the market,” she said.

The UK Forest Products Association (UKFPA) warned the industry “not to be fooled” by the suspension announcement, highlighting the fact that the threat of sale hanging over the remaining 85% of public forests had not changed.

“No-one should be fooled by the latest statement, it is not a U-turn and much remains at stake,” said UKFPA executive director David Sulman.

“There is no compelling case for a break-up of England’s public forests, including plans for 150-year leases for the major commercial conifer forests.”

Mr Sulman said the plans could put in jeopardy “many” businesses and jobs within the forest products sector.