'Northern Forest' which plans to plant 50m new trees could boost rural economy

Environment Minister Thérèse Coffey said planting trees is 'one of the best ways' farmers can invest in environment
Environment Minister Thérèse Coffey said planting trees is 'one of the best ways' farmers can invest in environment

The rural economy is set to receive a huge boost as plans have been announced to create a new Northern Forest that will comprise over 50 million trees.

The Woodland Trust and the Community Forest Trust will plant 50 million trees over 25 years.

The forest will stretch from Liverpool across to Hull with the M62 as its spine, and the plan has now received Government backing.

The project will embrace the cities of Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield, Leeds, Chester and Hull as well as major towns across the north.

The rural economy is also set to receive a huge boost, thanks to sustainable timber production and rural tourism.

It is hoped the plan will help deliver environmental, social and economic benefits through the creation of new woodland and sustainable management of existing woods.

The plans will help improve air quality, mitigate flood risk in key catchments and connect people with nature.

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 44%.

'A haven'

Farmers and landowners could also be incentivised through grants to help plant new woodland.

Environment Minister Thérèse Coffey said planting trees is one of the best ways farmers and landowners can invest in the British environment for future generations.

"They provide a haven for wildlife, reduce flood risk and improve water quality – making them some of our most cherished assets," Ms Coffey said.

However, tree planting rates are dramatically low, with planting in 2016 being only 700 hectares against the government’s target of 5000 hectares a year.

Austin Brady, director of conservation, 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 major woodland creation schemes.

“Existing approaches to increasing woodland cover are stalling and existing delivery mechanisms, such as Community Forests are under threat.”

The new forest will help the government deliver its planned 'green Brexit', which includes replacing the EU's CAP with a series of support payments that further enhance "public goods."