The first tree has been planted in a new ‘Northern Forest’ that will connect five community forests across the north of England.
Over the next 25 years, the Woodland Trust and Community Forest Trust are aiming to plant more than 50 million trees from Liverpool to Hull, connecting the Mersey Forest, Manchester City of Trees, South Yorkshire Community Forest, the Leeds White Rose Forest and the HEYwoods Project.
Spanning more than 120 miles, the Northern Forest will help boost habitats for woodland birds and bats and protect iconic species such as the red squirrel, alongside providing a tranquil space to be enjoyed by millions of people living in the area.
Forestry minister David Rutley joined the Woodland Trust, Community Forest Trust, government Tree Champion Sir William Worsley and students from St Andrew’s CE Primary School in Radcliffe, where they began the planting of 200 saplings as part of the government’s £5.7m investment.
Tree planting rates are dramatically low with tree planting in 2016 being only 700 hectares against the Government’s target of 5,000 hectares a year.
Woodland cover across the north is at just 7.6%, below the UK average of 13% and far below the EU average of 44%.
Forestry Minister David Rutley said: ‘It is a privilege to be here to see the Northern Forest take root, and to plant the first of many government-funded trees which will contribute to what will one day be a great forest.
‘This new forest will benefit communities across the north of England and deliver on our pledge to leave the environment in a better state for future generations.’
Simon Mageean Northern Forest Programme Director, Woodland Trust said: ‘A new Northern Forest will strengthen and 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 work with Government, and other organisations to find innovative funding mechanisms to ensure we can make a difference long term.’