By Thomas Barrett
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.
By Fiona Harvey and Sandra Laville
The first national ‘tree champion’ is charged with reversing the fortunes of the country’s woodlands and beleaguered urban trees.
England is running out of oak. The last of the trees planted by the Victorians are now being harvested, and in the intervening century so few have been grown – and fewer still grown in the right conditions for making timber – that imports, mostly from the US and Europe, are the only answer.
“We are now using the oaks our ancestors planted, and there has been no oak coming up to replace it,” says Mike Tustin, chartered forester at John Clegg and Co, the woodland arm of estate agents Strutt and Parker. “There is no oak left in England. There just is no more.”
Earlier this month, the government appointed the first “tree champion”, who will spearhead its plans to grow 11 million new trees, and conserve existing forests and urban trees. Sir William Worsley, currently chairman of the National Forest Company, has been given the task of overseeing trees in England and Wales, including England’s iconic national tree, and ensuring that trees are not felled unnecessarily. Worsley is a former chief of the Country Land and Business Association, which represents landowners and rural businesses.