A recent report by CPRE has highlighted the limited access to National Parks by some of the country's poorest communities. Research says that protected countryside is more than 15 miles away from more than half of the most deprived areas.i
Whilst the report, commissioned by the by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) is very concerning, (particularly in relation to the inaccessibility of public transport links) there is better news about local access to woodland for many of those same urban communities.
Since the creation of The Mersey Forest in 1991 there has been a massive increase in accessible woodland close to where people live.
Paul Nolan, Director of the Mersey Forest said, "The Mersey Forest Partnership has dramatically increased the availability of accessible woodland in hundreds of urban sites across Merseyside and north Cheshire over the past 25 years.
Based on the Woodland Trust's Woodland Access standard there is clearly a large increase woodlands close to the places people live. We know from surveys that 65% of people close to these new woodlands are using them for recreation at least once a month."
So how have they done it? What does accessible woodland mean and how do community forests work?
Paul Nolan says, "The Forest Partnership has worked closely with local people to create new areas of accessible woodland close to where they live, reclaiming derelict land or making use of underused land. The CPRE report demonstrates that a person living in Huyton near Liverpool may now be finding it harder to visit the breathtaking scenery of a National Park or Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, but they are now able to walk in woodland close to where they live every day."
There is an urgent need to plant more trees. The IPCC report on Climate Change in October 2018 highlighted the need to plant billions more and make some hard choices globally about how land is used.ii
Currently, despite some of the huge efforts mentioned above, it is likely that England is now deforesting, after decades of growth in woodland cover.iii
However, more than 9 million trees have been planted in The Mersey Forest in the past 25 years, creating thousands of hectares on new woodland. The area of woodland has increased by close to 75%, bucking the national trend.
May there be cause for hope with plans for the Northern Forest?
The Northern Forest is a 25-year vision to plant 50 million trees across the North of England, stretching from Liverpool to Hull with the M62 as its spine. The Northern Forest sits exactly in the gap between National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty in the north of England – the areas looked at in the CPRE report.
Their success in developing and delivering Community Forest Plans has made the Community Forest network key to its planning and development. Working with the Woodland Trust, five Community Forests, (The Mersey Forest, City of Trees, HEYwoods, The White Rose Forest and the South Yorkshire Forest), will play a key role in planning and delivering this ambitious plan to reforest the area.
The target of 50 million trees equates to trebling the current rate of planting and will create a productive forest across the Northern Powerhouse area that will not only provide biomass and future timber, but will also help to deliver wider social and environmental benefits to improve the population's health, reduce flood risk, tackle poor air quality, improve water quality, provide opportunities for recreation, tourism and leisure, and create attractive places in which to live, work and invest. iv
Paul Nolan said, "At the heart of the delivery of the Northern Forest has to be the Community Forest principle of working with local communities and creating high-value places that people will cherish; places that can become attractors for people to live and work, that support rich biodiversity, and that provide the natural capital to enable sustainable growth to start to be a possibility.
While technology, economies and social norms will all change over the next 25 years, we have an innate need for a good-quality natural environment, whether that is our important designated areas or the community woodlands on our doorstep."
i Robert Booth, https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/feb/04/england-national-parks-out-of-reach-for-poorer-people-study The Guardian 04 Feb 2019
ii IPCC, 2018: Summary for Policymakers. In: Global warming of 1.5°C. An IPCC Special Report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways, in the context of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty [V. Masson-Delmotte, P. Zhai, H. O. Pörtner, D. Roberts, J. Skea, P. R. Shukla, A. Pirani, W. Moufouma-Okia, C. Péan, R. Pidcock, S. Connors, J. B. R. Matthews, Y. Chen, X. Zhou, M. I. Gomis, E. Lonnoy, T. Maycock, M. Tignor, T. Water eld (eds.)]. World Meteorological Organization, Geneva, Switzerland, 32 pp.
iii C Marshall: 'Tree planting at 'an all time low''. BBC News, 16 Jun. 2016. www.bbc.co.uk/news/science- environment-36555858
iv Paul Nolan: 'Why a new Northern Forest is worth the investment'. Town and Country Planning, October 2017