More than 300,000 households – equivalent to roughly a city the size of Leeds** – have been given access to nature they previously didn’t have, a new Northern Forest study shows.
The report, commissioned by the Northern Forest Partnership and conducted by Liverpool John Moores University, looked to reveal the real impact of the six million-plus trees that have so far been planted in the ambitious project to link Liverpool to Hull with trees.
The Northern Forest project kicked off in 2018. Among its aims were to increase the 7.6% tree cover across the north – very low compared to the national average of 13% and way below most counties in the south - by establishing at least 50 million new trees by 2043, to help transform the landscape from Liverpool to the Yorkshire Coast.
It also aimed to lock up tonnes of carbon to fight climate change, reduce the risk of flooding and create more jobs.
It has since expanded through villages, towns and countryside, thanks to a core partnership involving the Woodland Trust and four community forests: Manchester City of Trees, The Mersey Forest, Humber Forest and the White Rose Forest, and the Community Forest Trust.
Key points from the study show that:
• more than 4,000 football pitches of trees have been planted
• 19,000 tonnes of carbon have been locked up by trees planted through the Northern Forest
• an additional 3,500 hectares of new habitat networks have been created for wildlife
• a £43 million annual uplift is flowing from the natural benefits
• 7.5 million more visits to woodland have been seen each year
• 87,500 households within deprived areas now have access to woodland within 500 metres
• a 33% improvement in flood mitigation has been seen across planted sites.
The news comes during the political parties’ autumn conference season, where the Woodland Trust is calling on nature to be front and centre of future party manifestos.
The Northern Forest Partnership has hugely benefitted from the Government's Nature for Climate Fund, which has played a major part in funding the six million trees planted so far through the Nature for Climate Funded Grow Back Greener and Trees for Climate programmes. The Northern Forest partners have also secured a wide breath of other funding from corporate partners and other fundraising campaigns.
To keep the momentum growing, the Woodland Trust says renewed funding post 2025 needs to be committed.
Nick Sellwood, the Woodland Trust’s Northern Forest Programme Director, said: "The climate and nature crises demand our urgent, unswerving attention. A general election is coming and poll after poll shows that the environment is a top priority for voters. Every political party should be backing projects that can deliver real environmental and social benefits like the Northern Forest.
"The time is now for all parties to commit to tackling climate change and part of that is supporting schemes to get more trees in the ground, and in terms of the Northern Forest we need new funds committed.
"The Northern Forest is a wonderful project which has brought together multiple agencies to make the north greener – and while there is still some way to go to reach the 50 million target of tree planting, the results so far are remarkable!"
Paul Nolan, Chair of England’s Community Forests and Director of The Mersey Forest, said: "Community Forests have a track record of working alongside our communities to establish new woodlands in and around our towns and cities, creating access to green spaces that generations of residents will benefit from. The Northern Forest is an ambitious project that is vital to help the North adapt to a changing climate, whilst improving people’s health and wellbeing and our economies. Through our partnership approach we’ve seen great progress over the last five years, and we’re excited to continue the good work through to our 2043 target."
Working with Mersey Forest, Huntington Parish Council has involved hundreds of people from the local community in planting 800 trees, creating a woodland that they will be able to watch grow every time they visit the village’s Jubilee Park. The team recommended a mixed broadleaf woodland that would not only create a sanctuary for wildlife, but also help to reduce water logging on the field and provide a buffer to help reduce road noise and pollution from the nearby North Wales Expressway. Since then, scores of people have enjoyed the benefits of nature, getting involved in activities such as green gym sessions and family nature sessions.
Louise Gibson, Clerk at Huntington Parish Council, said: "Planting these trees has brought the whole community together for such a worthwhile environmental cause. We have had so much amazing feedback about the tree planting and how important it is for Huntington."
For more information about the Northern Forest go to: thenorthernforest.org.uk
**UK population data shows there are approximately 341,000 households in Leeds, 207,000 in Liverpool, 209,000 in Bradford, 232,000 in Sheffield and 1.1 million in Greater Manchester.