The plans, which are being led by the Woodland Trust, include the planting of 50m trees along a 120-mile stretch of land running next to the M62. The project is expected to cost £500m over 25 years, with more than £10m committed by the Woodland Trust and the remainder still to be raised.
The project aims to provide new habitat for wildlife, as well as bolstering the local economy by an estimated £2bn through tourism, jobs, increasing property value and reduced flood risk to 190,000 homes. The Woodland Trust claims the new woodland will help tackle climate change by locking up an estimated 8m tonnes of carbon.
Planting for the forest is to begin in March at the Woodland Trust’s 680-hectare flagship site in the suburb of Smithills, in Bolton. The charity will deliver the project in partnership with five community forests that sit within the proposed area for the new woodland – the Mersey forest, Manchester’s City of Trees, Leeds’ White Rose forest, South Yorkshire community forest and the Heywoods project.
Announcing funding for the northern forest project, which forms part of the government’s 25-year environment plan, Theresa May said: “It is vital that we leave our planet in a better state than we found it, with cleaner air, stronger protections for animal welfare and greener spaces for everyone to enjoy.
“Progress is being made. We’re investing over £3bn in improving air quality, tackling marine pollution by banning harmful microbeads and increasing sentences for animal cruelty to five years.
“But to create an environment fit for the future we can’t stop there, and that is why we are supporting the creation of this new northern forest and will shortly be setting out our ambitious vision to further support the environment and protect its good health for generations to come.”
Austin Brady, the director of conservation at the Woodland Trust, said planting more forests would “lock up carbon on a large scale, boosting wildlife habitat and greening our towns and cities”.
Responding to the government’s £5.7m commitment, he told the BBC: “We’re delighted the prime minister’s supporting our project. It’s great to get the idea of the northern forest on the map. Admittedly the government’s cash contribution isn’t huge, but it will help us to unlock other funding.”
Michael Gove, the environment secretary, described trees as “some of our most cherished natural assets and living evidence of our investment for future generations”.
He said: “Not only are they a source of beauty and wonder but a way to manage flood risk, protect precious species and create healthier places for us to work and live.”
Paul Nolan, director of the Mersey Forest said: “The Northern Forest will complement the planned £75bn of hard infrastructure investment across the M62 corridor. We have shown that we can lock up over 7 million tonnes of carbon as well as potentially reduce flood risk for 190,000 homes. The Northern Forest can also help to deliver improved health and wellbeing, through programmes such as the Natural Health Service. Community Forest Trust has a long track record of developing partnerships and, most importantly, working with local communities to create new woodlands and manage existing woods in and around our towns and cities. We welcome the government support for the idea and we are looking forward to accelerating the work of the Community Forest Trust across the Northern Forest.”
There are currently five community forests that sit within the proposed area for the Northern Forest including, City of Trees, White Rose Forest, Mersey Forest, HEYwoods and South Yorkshire Forest.