One year in the life of the ambitious Northern Forest

12 March 2019

One year after the ambitious 25 year plan to plant 50 million trees along the M62 corridor to create a new Northern Forest was announced by the Woodland Trust and City of Trees the project has moved on at pace.

By the end of March 2019, nearly 600,000 trees will have been planted across a range of locations from existing woodland sites, and ex farmland, to schools and community grounds.

The project gained backing from the Prime Minister Theresa May and Environment Secretary Michael Gove at the start of 2018 with the Government providing £5.7 million to help kick start the £500m project, the first of its kind for more than a quarter of a century.

Spanning more than 120 miles between the cities of Bradford, Leeds, Manchester and Liverpool, the proposed 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.

With a population in excess of 13m that is expected to rise by 9% over the next 20 years and with woodland cover at just 7.6%, below the UK average of 13%, and far below the EU average of 38%, the North of England is ripe to reap the benefits of such a project.

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 high risk 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.

The Woodland Trust and Community Forest Trust, of which City of Trees is one of, estimate this new forest will generate more than £2 billion for the country’s economy.

Simon Mageean, Northern Forest Programme Director, Woodland Trust 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 ways to increase tree planting and expand woodland cover in the right places. Existing approaches to increasing the extent of sustainably managed woods and woodland cover are stalling and existing delivery mechanisms, such as Community Forests are in need of long term support. 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 and getting 600,000 trees into the ground in the first year is a great start.”

The Northern Forest will connect the four Community Forests in the north of England – the Mersey Forest, Manchester City of Trees, the Leeds White Rose Forest and the HEYwoods Project – with green infrastructure and woodland created in and around major urban centres such as Chester, Liverpool, Leeds, and Manchester. It will follow on from the successful National Forest, which transformed 200 square miles of industrial site in the heart of England. The forest now attracts over seven million visitors a year and has seen wildlife like otters, water voles and dragonflies flourish.