LIVERPOOL: The UK Government has announced plans to create a forest of 50 million trees across the countryside of the North of England.
The Woodland Trust said it plans to plant the trees over 25 years, in an area stretching from Liverpool in the West to Hull in the East.
The Community Forest Trusts will also be involved in creating the Northern Forest, which will be centred on the M62 corridor, including major cities including Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield, Hull, Liverpool and Chester.
The Westminster Government is contributing almost £6m towards the project.
The Woodland Trust said: “It will deliver major environmental, social and economic benefits that complement the significant growth, investment and new infrastructure that is planned for the North of England.
“The Northern Forest will both accelerate the creation of new woodland and support sustainable management of existing woods right across the area. Many more trees, woods and forests will deliver a better environment for all by: improving air quality in our towns and cities; mitigating flood risk in key catchments; supporting the rural economy though tourism, recreation and timber production; connecting people with nature; and helping to deliver improvements to health and wellbeing through welcoming and accessible local green spaces.
“With a population in excess of 13 million that is expected to rise by 9 per cent over the next 20 years and with woodland cover at just 7.6 per cent, below the UK average of 13, and far below the EU average of 44 per cent, the North of England is ripe to reap the benefits of such a project.
“Tree planting rates are dramatically low with tree planting in 2016 being only 700ha against the Government’s target of 5,000ha a year; there is a need for drastic change.”
Austin Brady, the charity’s director of conservation, said: “England is losing tree cover. We need to make sure we are protecting our most important habitats such as ancient woodland as well as investing in new major woodland creation schemes.
“A new Northern Forest could accelerate the benefits of community forestry, support landscape scale working for nature, deliver a wide range of benefits, including helping to reduce flood risk, and adapt some of the UK’s major towns and cities to projected climate change.
“The North of England is perfectly suited to reap the benefits of a project on this scale. But this must be a joined-up approach, we’ll need to continue to work with Government, and other organisations to harness new funding mechanisms such as those promised in the clean growth strategy to plant extensive areas of woodland to lock up carbon.”
Five existing community forests are within the proposed area for the Northern Forest including City of Trees, White Rose Forest, Mersey Forest, HEYwoods and South Yorkshire Forest.
Paul Nolan, director of the Mersey Forest said: “The Northern Forest will complement the planned £75bn of hard infrastructure investment across the M62 corridor.
“We have shown that we can lock up over 7 million tonnes of carbon as well as potentially reduce flood risk for 190,000 homes. The Northern Forest can also help to deliver improved health and wellbeing, through programmes such as the Natural Health Service.
“Community Forests have a long track record of developing partnerships and, most importantly, working with local communities to create new woodlands and manage existing woods in and around our towns and cities. We welcome the government support for the idea and we are looking forward to accelerating the work of the community forests across the Northern Forest.”
UK Environment Secretary Michael Gove said: “Trees are some of our most cherished natural assets and living evidence of our investment for future generations.
“Not only are they a source of beauty and wonder, but a way to manage flood risk, protect precious species, and create healthier places for us to work and live.
“This new Northern Forest is an ambitious and exciting project that will create a vast ribbon of woodland cover in northern England stretching from coast to coast, providing a rich habitat for wildlife to thrive, and a natural environment for millions of people to enjoy.
“This new forest will help us deliver a green Brexit and help to deliver on our pledge to leave the environment in a better state than we found it.”