Above: 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 key catchments; supporting the rural economy through 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.
This should be no ‘flash in the pan’. We will clearly need a variety of new woodland types, with those focused on biodiversity complemented by others that are designed to lock up carbon efficiently or produce timber to support rural business. We are not chasing success ‘at any price’. There will be little point investing so much energy and resources in new woodland if our existing woods are disappearing. There is much to do to recognise the value of existing woods and trees, to protect them, to manage them and to nurture them.
The Trust remains a staunch defender of our irreplaceable ancient woodland and ancient trees – we will continue to challenge their damage or loss in all circumstances from major projects like HS2 to individual planning applications – that’s our position, and it remains non-negotiable. I think it’s fair to say that no one does more than us in this arena, as our dogged fight to protect ancient woodland throughout the HS2 process to date has demonstrated.
Transforming urban spaces and rural landscapes on this scale requires action and investment – and this will, not surprisingly, involve planting millions of trees. But that in itself can be misread as an oversimplification of what the Forest should be about. Planting may be the first choice, particularly in the more challenging parts of the urban fringe environments or in highly modified landscapes where few natural seed sources remain. But there will also be space to work with nature and to harness natural processes, to use natural regeneration and colonisation to participate alongside each other in providing something that will benefit everyone.
One thing this cannot afford to become is a ‘one size fits all’ concept. The big prize we are pursuing here is to set out to achieve something that is genuinely ground breaking, that will test our appetite for landscape scale conservation, that will offer a ‘test bed’ for natural capital and ecosystem services thinking and will offer scope for all parts of the trees, woods and forestry spectrum – whether driven by conservation, productivity, green infrastructure or carbon storage - to participate alongside each other.
It’s not a government led initiative – it’s a bottom-up initiative. We and the Community Forests are in it for the long haul.
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