Get set for a summer of Forest Cycling in St Helens

21 April 2016
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This summer St Helens cyclists will have the opportunity to take part in free, friendly bike rides through green spaces and woodlands thanks to St Helens Council and The Mersey Forest.

We've teamed up to add these group rides to the range of activities being provided in the borough as part of the new Nature4Health scheme. Nature4Health supports local groups to provide high quality, evidence-based sessions utilising the assets of the local natural surroundings. It's about providing health-promoting, enjoyable group activities in a green, therapeutic space.


This is a fantastic opportunity to explore the amazing open spaces across the Borough, such as Colliers Moss Common, part of the Bold Forest Park. The bike rides will be based at the Cycle Hub at Bold Miners' Neighbourhood Centre, Fleet Lane. Developed in partnership with Sustrans North West, the Cycle Hub has a stock of bicycles, helmets and hi-vis gear available for public use. It's one of five in the borough and also offers cycle skills and maintenance training. The new rides are a great way to find out more about how you can benefit from the Hubs as well as the local green networks you can explore by bike.


The bike rides are now in the planning stage, and the organisers would love to hear the thoughts of local residents. If you have ideas for routes or want to get involved, please register your interest with Adam Molyneux, by emailing or calling 01744 676174.


Nature4Health is a three-year project funded by The Big Lottery's Reaching Communities Programme, with a total of £419,597 awarded for work in targeted communities across The Mersey Forest including St Helens, Liverpool and Sefton.


If you would like to work in partnership with The Mersey Forest to develop Nature4Health activities in your community please call or email Suzanne on 01925 816217 or




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New vision launched at largest ever England's Community Forestry Conference

30 March 2016
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065 (1024x683)
The largest ever England's Community Forestry Conference has taken place in Birmingham, bringing together over 80 representatives from across the forestry sector and chaired by Sir Harry Studholme, Chair of the Forestry Commission.

Woodland professionals from the Forestry Commission, Defra, the Woodland Trust, and Community Forests such as the Red Rose Forest, the Forest of Marston Vale and The Mersey Forest descended on Birmingham for a day of presentations and workshops.

Key themes of this year's conference included the urban forest with the launch of Vision for a Resilient Urban Forest by the Urban Forestry and Woodlands Advisory Committee by Jane Carlsen, chair.


We also looked at professionalism in community forestry, with Institute of Chartered Foresters' Chief Executive Shireen Chambers.


Speakers included Professor Rob MacKenzie from the University of Birmingham asking whether trees really help to clean the air in our towns and cities and Mike Norbury from Cheshire West and Chester Council on the role that trees play in Natural Flood Management.


Beccy Speight, Chief Executive of The Woodland Trust gave a lively presentation on the developing Charter for Trees, Woods and People which will help to unlock the potential of the UK's trees and woods, improve our lives and landscapes and celebrate the trees in our lives.

The presentations and workshops delivered at the conference reflected key issues for the forestry sector today as it adjusts to the opportunities and challenges facing our urban forests.


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School swaps city centre for forest as children plant their own woodland classroom

03 March 2016
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Vincent Forest Schools
Children at St Vincent De Paul Catholic Primary School have created a bit of the Mersey Forest in their city centre school grounds by planting an entire new woodland in just two days.

Parents, staff and children braved windy conditions to join a team from The Mersey Forest to plant 220 new trees – including 15 semi-mature trees – creating a wooded outdoor classroom where 'Forest School' lessons will take place. The woodland also includes new log seating created from felled trees donated by St Peter and St Paul Catholic Church, Kirkby.

The work is part of a project by The Mersey Forest, funded by Smurfit Kappa and the Ernest Cook Trust, which aims to introduce 'Forest School' to the most urban parts of Liverpool where children often have limited access to green space. Forest School lessons allow children to play, explore and learn about the natural environment and do activities like shelter-building, outdoor cooking, growing plants, using tools and bug-hunting.

In Spring, early years children will begin their Forest School lessons with The Mersey Forest team. Later in the year, school staff will be trained to lead their own sessions so the new woodland is used for outdoor learning for many years to come.

Jenny Bethel, class teacher from St Vincent's Primary School has visited Kingsley Primary School in neighbouring Toxteth to see how Forest School works. She said:

"It was inspiring seeing how the children had benefited from learning outdoors, developing social skills, confidence and being active at the same time. We are happy to have started adapting our grounds to run similar sessions."

The Forest School lessons offer a unique approach to teaching the curriculum through using the natural environment. Studies have shown that children spend less time playing in nature than in the past – Forest School is one way of addressing that, boosting health and wellbeing.

Deputy Head Lisa Salters comments:

"This is a very exciting time at St Vincent's! We are truly delighted to have been provided with a platform from Mersey Forest that will allow both our children and staff to harness the benefits of Forest School for themselves"

The new trees are part of The Mersey Forest initiative that has seen more than nine million new trees planted to date.


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Select Committee calls for government to do more to promote green infrastructure

25 February 2016
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Big Ben in the trees
Green infrastructure is vitally important to creating better places, and should be taken more seriously by government, argues new House of Lords report.

A new report from the cross-party National Policy for the Built Environment Committee, Building Better Places, outlines the importance of delivering a better built environment and criticises current government policy in this area. The report is concerned about the quality of new developments,and about the risk of housing delivery being prioritised at the expense of other elements of the built and natural environmen


It recommends a range of measures which are intended to create better places, promote design quality and enhance the resilience and sustainability of new developments. The report notes that the importance of green infrastructure to the built environment was emphasised throughout the committee's inquiry. It also points to the linkages between the places in which we live and work and health.


In another sign that green infrastructure is being taken more seriously in government, also this month the national Planning Practice Guidance has been updated to include an expanded section on the importance of green infrastructure planning. This is a major improvement in the status of green infrastructure within the guidance, which had been felt to be downgraded in the previous version and much criticised by the Select Committee's witnesses.


The Committee's report calls for green infrastructure to be widely recognised as an asset with wider economic, health and social benefits.


The report argues that the government should:


  • do more to protect and promote green infrastructure in national policy and guidance, including setting out its benefits for sustainability
  • encourage local authorities to set minimum standards for green infrastructure provision and management in local plans and in planning decision-making.

Paul Nolan, Director of The Mersey Forest commented: "We've been making the case for the impact made by properly planned green infrastructure for many years and we're pleased this report recognises its importance to the places we live and work. We hope the recommendations are listened to as planning policy evolves."


The report and the changes to planning guidance will be outlined and discussed at the next North West Green Infrastructure Forum on 16th June. More details.


Photo: Neil Howard


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What's the difference between ecosystem services and green infrastructure?

22 February 2016
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The Mersey Forest's Dr Susannah Gill unpacks a thorny environmental issue in a major new reference book on ecosystem services.

The idea that nature provides services to people – 'ecosystem services' is one of the most powerful concepts to have emerged over the last two decades. Similarly, the concept of 'green infrastructure' – the the network of trees, parks, green spaces, canals and rivers that forms our life support system – has become widely recognised, especially in the planning and regeneration policy world. But are these two terms interchangeable, or are there important differences?


Gill has outlined the two concepts, their background and how they are both used within a new book: the Routledge Handbook of Ecosystem Services. The handbook aims to provide a comprehensive reference text on ecosystem services, integrating natural and social science (including economics).


Gill argues that green infrastructure and ecosystem services should be seen as different terms relating to the same approach, complementing and supporting each other, rather
than as distinctive and conflicting approaches. In many respects, she views ecosystem services as 'the science that underpins green infrastructure planning,'


Find out more about the Handbook of Ecosystem Services

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