Grant for largest tree planting scheme in Lakeland for decades

Date: Monday 4th December 2017
Therese Coffey
Therese Coffey

TREES, forests and woodlands are some of our most beautiful and cherished natural assets — supplying us with timber, helping to manage flood risk, creating habitats for important wildlife, and making the places we live cleaner and healthier.

Perhaps nowhere does this ring truer than in the Lake District — an area renowned for its breathtaking landscapes and forests. Nearly 30,000 hectares of the Lake District national park’s grounds are covered with trees, and Grizedale Forest attracts more than 200,000 visitors a year to its iconic woodland.

The beauty of these lakes and their forests has struck historical figures across time, with William Wordsworth describing the area as “the loveliest spot man hath ever found”, and the national park awarded UNESCO world heritage status earlier this year.

As we celebrate National Tree Week — the UK’s biggest annual festival of trees — it is a timely opportunity to reflect on the value of trees to our wider environment and well-being, and to encourage people across the country to plant more of them.

There are individual events celebrating the week all around the country and I know the Lake District is using this as an opportunity to mark a massive planting operation which has seen nearly 18,000 saplings planted since 2000. Considering this campaign was volunteer-led, these are fantastic results.

Of course, government has a role to play as well, which is why I am delighted to have recently approved the largest productive tree planting scheme in more than 25 years within the Lake District national park. Thanks to funding under the Countryside Stewardship Woodland Creation Grant scheme, the Lowther Estate, near Penrith, is set to plant more than 200,000 trees over 170 hectares of its area.

Joining Lowther’s ranks is Doddington North Moor, near Wooler, Northumberland, which has just received consent to plant a new 350-hectare forest — the first large-scale woodland to be planted in England for more than 30 years. The area is already full of beautiful wooded landscape, so it’s no surprise the Westminster Christmas tree was sourced from nearby Kielder.

These two examples are exactly what I want to see more of — farmers, foresters and landowners are best placed to decide how they manage their land, but our grant schemes are there to help them to make the most of this and showcase the benefits of using this land for woodland creation.

I’m pleased that such beautiful, productive forests and woodlands join the Northern Powerhouse stable — government working in partnership with local businesses.

Through the Countryside Stewardship scheme, landowners like those at Lowther Estate and Doddington North Moor can apply for up to £6,800 per hectare to plant more trees — and, aside from the obvious environmental benefits, new productive woodlands like that being created by Lowther can create opportunities for future employment and income from the sale of timber.

For these reasons, I feel this sector has a bright future ahead of it.

Leaving the EU means we have a once in a generation opportunity to consider a long-term vision for our environment — one that encourages woodland creation and enhances the current environmental protections in place.

We are soon to publish a 25-year Environment Plan, which will set out this vision, including our ambitions for forestry, in more detail.

If we are committed to being the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than we inherited it, we cannot underestimate the importance of trees.

And, while we are rising to the challenge, I would encourage those with land available to contact the Forestry Commission now to discuss how they too might reap the benefits of woodland creation.

Trees are not only a source of beauty — they are the most tangible evidence we have of investing to enhance the environment of the future.

• Parliamentary under secretary of state for the environment Thérèse Coffey celebrates National Tree Week in this article for the Herald.