Farmers and landowners are being offered the chance to be part of the vast new Northern Forest with heavily subsidised tree-planting incentives.
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 community forests of the north.
As part of the ambitious woodland creation project the Woodland Trust, thanks to funding from Defra, will contribute up to 85 per cent of the costs to anyone wanting to plant more than half a hectare of woodland on their land through its MOREwoods scheme.
Emma Briggs, who heads up the Trust’s MOREwoods project, said: “The area covered by the Northern Forest has below average woodland cover - just 7.6 per cent compared to the UK average of 13 per cent - but we have above average ambition and farmers, smallholders and landowners are an integral part of our vision.
“There are so many reasons to plant trees. They improve soil quality and stability, slow the flow of flooding, provide shelter for crops and livestock, attract pollinators, and can provide an additional cash crop, a source of fuel and a home for wildlife. And with our best ever subsidy there’s no better time to think about planting for a stronger more viable future.”
One landowner who has signed up to be part of the forest is smallholder Mungo Dalglish, who with his sister Iona owns eight hectares of arable land and just under three of woodland classed as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) in Hartford in the heart of Cheshire.
They are in the process of developing the land according to a blend of permaculture, natural farming and rewilding principles. So far they’ve created a kitchen garden and designed and planted the first phases of their trees - 775 hawthorn, blackthorn, dog rose, hazel, crab apple, oak, rowan, silver birch, elder, dogwood and sweet chestnut covering half a hectare.
Mungo, a massage therapist who runs residential retreats on the site, said: “We have planted because we want to kickstart the regenerative power of this land, to welcome back the wonderful wildness and to learn how we can both support and be supported by it. We hope to have a diverse and vibrant landscape with more woodland, agroforestry systems, forest gardens, orchards, meadows and wild areas.
“The MOREwoods scheme attracted us because we too want more woods! Real living woods, not just tree plantations. We want to grow our food mindfully whilst building soil and encouraging wildlife; to model a more holistic approach to agriculture producing healthy, organically-grown fruit and veg for the local community, including as many open-pollinated heritage varieties as possible.
"We hope to see soil-building, water-resilience, shelter, biodiversity, fuel and food all as a result of planting trees, especially in the name of the Northern Forest.”
Cumbria couple Matthew and Helen Houseman have also signed up and in February planted 600 trees and shrubs on half a hectare of land at their home in Killington.
The Trust recommended a special mix of trees designed for the Cumbrian landscape including field maple, silver birch, sweet chestnut, crab apple, hazel, Scots pine, wild cherry, common oak, rowan and small-leaved lime.
Matthew, 52, an environmental engineer, said: “The trees have only been in a few months but we are already getting pleasure from watching them spring into life and seeing what comes into bud first. My parents were farmers and used to plant lots of trees. It’s been good to be able to do the same.
“Our neighbours around us have seen what we’re doing and asking lots of questions. There seems to be interest.
“The Northern Forest is a great idea. It’s so important to get more trees in the ground. We’ve started to notice the effects of ash dieback and thought in a hundred years this landscape will look very different if nothing is done to replace what is being lost. We’re not particularly planting for us. We are doing it for the future.”
The Friends of Chat Moss, a community group working with Lancashire Wildlife Trust to restore mosslands within the Chat Moss area north of Salford, Manchester, is also forming part of the Northern Forest.
One of the major motivations for the project is to produce habitat for willow tit, which is nationally endangered, although common locally.
The group took delivery of 1,500 trees in February which 83 volunteers planted at Little Woolden Moss nature reserve over three days, creating a strip of woodland which will help connectivity between two nearby breeding populations.
The alder, hawthorn, rowan, hazel and ear willow they planted will also act as a shelter belt on the western edge of the reserve. The bank is relatively dry and contains nutrient from brick rubble, making it unsuitable for conversion back into lowland raised bog, but ideal for planting trees.
The shelter belt will reduce drift of agricultural chemicals on to the bog, and reduce wind blow, which dries out the peat surface.
The bank is already naturally colonising with goat willow, downy and silver birch. As well as the trees provided by the Woodland Trust the group will add goat willow saplings, elder and a few Scots pine. Jays frequently bring acorns onto the moss further adding to the diversity.
The Trust is currently taking applications for planting in the November 2019-March 2020 planting season. Applicants must be willing to plant currently non-wooded land at a density of between 1,000 and 1,600 trees per hectare.
The Trust will provide a wide range of native trees and shrubs, all sourced and grown in the UK to reduce the risk of disease, visit the site to advise on what to plant where and, if eligible, arrange a contractor to plant.
Further information can be found at www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/morewoods, by contacting the Trust’s woodland creation team on 0330 333 5303 or filling in an online enquiry form at www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/enquiry
The Northern Forest will connect the Community Forests in the north of England – the Mersey Forest, Manchester City of Trees, White Rose Forest and the HEYwoods Project – with green infrastructure and woodland created in and around major urban centres such as Chester, Liverpool, Leeds, and Manchester.
With trees planted in the right place, the Northern Forest will:
• reduce the risk of flooding for up to 190,000 people
• create thousands of new jobs
• help tackle climate change by storing thousands of tonnes of carbon
• cool and clean the air in towns and cities, helping to reduce the pollutants that cause childhood asthma and respiratory disease
• improve water quality
• make communities and individuals happier and healthier
• deliver economic benefits through the production of wood fuel and timber and wider economic benefits
• provide opportunities for recreation, tourism and leisure
• create attractive places in which to live, work and invest.