Talks

Britain’s reforestation project

 By Amanda Saint

Recently the U.K. government announced that it will be providing USD $4.31 million investment to help plant a new coast-to-coast forest in the north of England that will bring 50 million new trees to the country’s least-wooded areas…

Spanning the country from east to west, the forest will stretch from the city of Liverpool to the city of Hull in a project led by the conservation charity, The Woodland Trust (TWT). The planting will cover 62,000 acres, take 25 years to complete and will bring much-needed green spaces to the 13 million people who live in the region. The trees will be a mix of broadleaf and conifer trees, which combined bring the most benefits to humans and wildlife alike.
TWT’s manifesto describing the project, A New Northern Forest,” states that the new forest will restore important habitats for wildlife and reduce the risk of flooding for 190,000 residents across the 120-mile strip designated for the project.

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A map showing the full potential range of the new Northern Forest (woodlandtrust.org.uk)

Environmental, social and economic benefits

The manifesto also states that the forest will improve the quality of life for residents of the large northern cities—Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield and Hull—who currently are surrounded by one of the lowest densities of woodland in the whole of Europe.

Cleaner air

As well as providing residents with new outdoor spaces, it will improve air quality along one of the UK’s busiest motorway corridors, the M62. The forest will run along the same route as the M62, which according to figures from UK Traffic Data sees around 61,000 vehicles traveling on it annually. According to the TWT’s manifesto, research carried out by Lancaster University showed that trees cut air pollution by more than 50 percent both indoors and outdoors in an urban residential street, and that urban areas with vegetation also help cities to stay cooler.

Capturing carbon

The manifesto reveals that just 1.2 acres of conifer woodland can soak up as much carbon as an average driver will generate in an entire lifetime of motoring. The planned 50 million trees would be able to absorb approximately 50 megatons of carbon by the 2050s. So the new forest will be another tool to help the country tackle emissions to mitigate climate-change risks.

More production, more value

Tangible and more predictable economic benefits come from the timber that the forest will produce, but beyond that the project is expected to provide indirect benefits as well. The manifesto highlights the productivity rates of the U.K. compared to Germany; for every $1.32 generated by UK workers, their German counterparts generate $1.78.
A study by the Glasgow City Council shows that this could be related to the lack of green spaces in the U.K.: “…as well as attracting more talent, businesses located next to newly regenerated green space showed better staff retention and morale, specifically due to the ameliorated environment. If workers can see a natural environment from their workspace, they report fewer ailments and better job satisfaction.” The project is also expected to raise the value of homes in the region, with houses typically seeing an increase of around $6,610 if they have a view of a woodland or park, or if they are on a tree-lined street.

Better biodiversity

The northern forest will also provide a vital new habitat to potentially help conserve many species of wildlife that are currently under threat. These include butterflies and moths, as well as bats, red squirrels and wildcats, to name just a few. Loss of habitat is the main reason these species are facing extinction.

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Red squirrels are officially classed as near threatened in England, Wales and Northern Ireland (woodlandtrust.org.uk)

Planting progress

The first planting started in March 2018 and saw local communities getting involved to start bringing the area of Smithills on the outskirts of Bolton back to life. Alongside MPs and TWT volunteers, local residents and school children helped to plant trees on the site, which has been left severely depleted by the city’s industrial past. As the project progresses, it will be supported by England’s Community Forests (ECF), which is also working to replant native woodlands in areas surrounding towns and cities. This is the country’s biggest environmental regeneration initiative. Since 1990 it has planted more than 29,652 acres of new woodland, taken over the management of a further 27,000 hectares of existing woodland and provided community access to 39,536 acres of woods and green space. The combination of the TWT and ECF projects should help keep the U.K. on track to deliver the current government’s goal of being the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than it was when they inherited it.

READ MORE: Enchanted Forests by Erin Biba

about the author
Amanda Saint
Journalist and content writer, specialised in engineering and technology with a focus on environmental sustainability, urbanisation and biotechnology.