Fifty-million-tree northern forest will raise quality of life, says Bishop Graham Usher

12 January 2018

PLANS to plant 50 million trees for a 120-mile “Northern Forest” between Liverpool and Hull have been welcomed by the Bishop of Dudley, the Rt Revd Graham Usher, an ecologist.

The Woodland Trust, which will work in partnership with the Community Forest Trust to deliver the project, announced on Sunday that the Government had promised £5.7 million for it. The forest will be planted over the next 25 years, and, with the M62 as its “spine”, will “embrace” Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield, Leeds, Chester, and Hull, as well as other urban centres across the north.

It would deliver “major environmental, social, and economic benefits that complement the significant growth, investment, and new infrastructure that is planned for the north of England”, the Trust said. It would also improve air quality in the north of the country, where woodland is at 7.6 per cent, below the UK average of 13 per cent.

Bishop Usher, who once chaired the Northeast Advisory Committee of the Forestry Commission, said on Tuesday: “Whenever you plant a tree you are investing in the future. It’s perhaps your children or grandchildren who will gain the real benefits. So this, at last, is a government policy that isn’t short-sighted.”

Woodlands brought numerous environmental benefits, he said: “They store carbon, helping to reduce climate change, and they slow the passage of water, so reducing flood risk. Their air-cleaning benefits, fuel, and sustainable timber for construction all add to the quality of life. Then there is that spring in the step and lifting of the soul felt during a walk in a forest that money can’t really put a price on.”

Churches could play a part in addressing the low levels of tree cover in the UK, he said (Features, 24 November). “Where are those neglected pieces of church land or corners of churchyards where a group of trees would not only look fantastic but bring lots of benefits? . . . Perhaps now is the time for our generation not to be creating in stone but getting our hands dirty planting saplings, so as to rediscover the joy of a community orchard, or a grove of trees that can provide a peaceful place for reflection.”

He urged those designing the Northern Forest to be “imaginative”, and recommended that they “fill it with trees that are most likely to be adaptive to climate change and associated pests and diseases; safeguard good agricultural ground for food production; and protect internationally rare landscapes like our moorland uplands and sphagnum bogs.”

Referring to the threat to ancient woodlands posed by HS2, a campaigner at Friends of Earth, Paul de Zylva, told BBC News: “If the Government really cared about woodlands, it wouldn’t be routing a high-speed train through them. And it wouldn’t be allowing the weight of this project to be carried by charity.”

Bishop Usher will give a talk, “The Leaves of the Tree are for the Healing of Nations”, at the Bloxham Festival, on 16 February.

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