New UK ‘Northern Forest’ plans announced

The UK Prime Minister Teresa May has this week announced that the UK government has pledged £5.7 million to create a new 62,000 acre forest in the north of the Britain. This is a fantastic start to 2018 and welcome news to conservationists, environmental activists, and residents in the area.

The plans, which are being led by the Woodland Trust, include the planting of 50 million trees across a 120-mile stretch along the M62 corridor between Liverpool and Hull.

The planting will take place over the next 25 years. The aim is to provide new habitat for wildlife, such as birds and bats, protection for endangered species, such as the red squirrel, and access to woodlands and green spaces for millions of local residents. It is estimated that the project will boost the local economy by £2 billion through tourism, recreation and timber production jobs, and increasing property value, as well as reducing the flood risk to 190,000 homes. According to the Woodland Trust, the new forest will also help tackle climate change by locking up an estimated 8m tonnes of carbon.

“The Northern Forest will accelerate the creation of new woodland and support sustainable management of existing woods right across the area,” explained Austin Brady, Director of Conservation at the Woodland Trust. “Planting many more trees, woods and forests will deliver a better environment for all – locking up carbon on a large scale, boosting wildlife habitat and greening our towns and cities.”

Map showing the extent of the new Northern Forest, stretching across the breadth of the country, from Liverpool to Hull. Source: The Woodland Trust.

According to the Woodland Trust, tree planting rates in the UK are dramatically low at present. Tree planting in 2016 was only 700 hectares, against the Government’s own target of 5,000 hectares a year. According to Forestry Commission statistics, woodland comprises a mere 13% of the total land area in the UK (dropping to only 10% for England) making it one of Europe’s least wooded countries. England is in fact believed to be in a deforestation state as a result of more trees being felled than are being planted. This is at a time when trees are needed more than ever to counter climate change and prevent flooding. Ancient woodlands – areas covered for centuries in woodland that have evolved into complex communities of trees, plants, fungi, microorganisms and insects that are deemed irreplaceable – are also at risk from an unprecedented number of threats, from housing development, to the building of new roads, quarries and railways.

Tree planting will begin in March this year at the Woodland Trust’s 680-hectare Northern Forest flagship site at Smithills, Bolton, supported by funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund. The Woodland Trust is already committed to investing over £10 million in this project, which is expected to cost £500m over the next 25 years. The remainder of the funds are still to be raised.