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Taking the Northern Forest to the Labour Party Conference

On the day I arrived in the city, the Waterfront looked stunning. The Mersey sparkled beneath the clean and beautifully restored buildings of Pier Head and the docks. It's hard to believe that, not long ago, there were abandoned warehouses and empty yards here.

This is an inspiration to those of us who are working to deliver a similar transformation with the Northern Forest. In a region that is home to around a quarter of the population of England, tree planting has stalled despite there being only 7.6 per cent tree cover.

Through the Northern Forest we want to turn things around. We want to see habitats thrive, planting rates soar, a woodland culture flourish and ancient woodlands better protected.

Our Northern Forest reception

This is the ambition we took to Labour delegates and politicians at our Northern Forest drop-in reception, held at the Tate Liverpool.

Our CEO Beccy Speight opened the event, placing the Northern Forest in the context of the Northern Powerhouse agenda and arguing that more woods and trees will:

  • enrich the lives of Northern towns and cities
  • support wildlife
  • unlock economic opportunities.
Left to right: James Cooper, Head of Government Affairs at the Woodland Trust; Mayor for the Liverpool City Region Steve Rotheram; Beccy Speight, our CEO and Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester. (Photo: Phil Formby / WTML)
Left to right: James Cooper, Head of Government Affairs at the Woodland Trust; Mayor for the Liverpool City Region Steve Rotheram; Beccy Speight, our CEO and Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester. (Photo: Phil Formby / WTML)

A transformative vision for the North

The Shadow Environment Minister, Sue Hayman MP, expressed her shock that the North has such low tree cover.

Her colleague the Shadow Devolution Minister, Jim McMahon MP, spoke about the natural beauty of the region and the importance of the Northern Forest in combating mistaken notions of the North. Rather, the forest can attract investment and improve the  quality of life.

Drawing on his experiences in local government in Oldham, he emphasised the importance of integrating trees across council policies – so that they're protected and their benefits across public policy realised.

A partnership with the community forests

We couldn't set out to deliver 50 million trees over 25-years without our community forest partners:

- The Mersey Forest
- City of Trees
- The White Rose Forest
- HEYwoods

Rooted as they are in their respective areas it was great to hear from Iain Taylor, Chair of the Community Forest Trust, about the solid foundations laid by the community forests. The Northern Forest will be built on these foundations, and on top of their hard work.

Shadow Environment Secretary Sue Hayman MP (centre) flanked by our Government Affairs team. (Photo: Phil Formby / WTML)
Shadow Environment Secretary Sue Hayman MP (centre) flanked by our Government Affairs team. (Photo: Phil Formby / WTML)

Local authorities are crucial for delivery

Local authorities will also be central to the successful delivery of the Forest. So we were pleased to be joined by Leeds City Council leader Judith Blake, who focused her remarks on the importance of trees to Leeds as a natural flood management solution.

Judith recalled the devastating floods which hit the city on Boxing Day 2015.

Remarkably, an entire housing estate had been protected thanks to the presence of urban trees! With real-life examples such as this it is essential that trees form part of the business case for all new developments.

Making the Northern Forest a reality

The challenge now is to turn all these warm words into practical action. The Labour mayors of the Liverpool City Region and Greater Manchester, Steve Rotheram and Andy Burnham, pledged their support at the event, and both had strong pro-tree policies in their election manifestos.

We’ll continue to lobby for Labour nationally to adopt a tree planting target, something which was absent from its new environment policy, ‘The Green Transformation’.

We're still at the foothills of this 25 year project. If you would like to get involved – whether as a financial donor, landowner, partner, or in any other way – please email enquiries@woodlandtrust.org.uk.

This is a bottom-up initiative and only with everyone doing their bit will we be able to secure this fabulous legacy for future generations.

Help us continue to stand up for trees.

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