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Northern Forest

Volume 789: debated on Monday 26 February 2018


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress they have made in establishing the Northern Forest.

My Lords, as part of the 25-year environment plan, the Government have pledged £5.7 million to support the creation of a northern forest that will stretch 120 miles from Liverpool to Hull. We are now working with the Woodland Trust and five community forests to identify sites where the first trees, funded by government, will be planted next winter.

My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend the Minister for his Answer, and I commend HMG for supporting this grand project, and all the many bodies involved, especially the Woodland Trust, which will oversee the planting of the 50 million trees, starting this March. Do Her Majesty’s Government agree that this forest will be a huge plus for the environment in countless ways? As we have heard, the forest will stretch from Liverpool to Hull, and my point is that much of it is on Duchy of Lancaster land. Will the Minister consider supporting naming it the “Royal Northern Forest” in celebration of Her Majesty the Queen, who has ruled longer than any British monarch in our history?

My Lords, the northern forest will undoubtedly bring benefits for people, wildlife and the environment. Planting the right trees in the right places will reduce flood risk; help adapt to climate change; improve air quality, health and well-being; increase biodiversity; enhance landscapes; and, indeed, build resilience for our treescapes. I like my noble friend’s suggestion, and will ensure that the Woodland Trust and England’s Community Forests are aware of it.

My Lords, I declare an interest as chairman of the Woodland Trust. I am delighted that the Government have embraced with such alacrity the concept we dreamt up, and I thank the Minister for the £5.7 million. However, it is a £500 million project, and is not just about trees. It will improve air quality in towns, mitigate flood risk, help to promote rural economies and deliver improvements in health and well-being, not only in the rural environment but in the urban environment. Will the Minister consider whether budgets that are focused at the moment on those wider benefits might be used in some way to help to promote and find the total cost of the northern forest?

My Lords, I congratulate not only the noble Baroness but the Woodland Trust for the great work that they are doing. In fact, we are in partnership with it on the tree-planting campaign in primary schools, for instance. I certainly think this will be a good example of a mix of public and private funding—the leverage of public funding and then charitable private funding. Indeed, Yorkshire Water has already pledged that it will plant 1 million trees as part of the northern forest on its landholding.

My Lords, I will follow on from the previous question. The cost of the northern forest will be £500 million, which equates to nearly £20 million a year having to be found. If those sums are not found, predominantly by charities, what contingency plans do the Government have to ensure that the northern forest becomes a reality?

As I explained in my earlier reply, this will be a public and private enterprise. There will be a number of ways in which this can be done, including the woodland carbon sequestration fund. There are a number of public tree-planting funds, as well as public and charitable sources.

My Lords, the Minister will be aware that Admiral Collingwood was very worried about the northern forest and the loss of oak trees because so many had been used to build ships, and he used to walk around with acorns in his pockets. He, like Nelson, was also worried about the lack of frigates because our Navy had only 138 at the time. Does the Minister think that Admiral Collingwood would feel very pleased about the northern forest proposals, but not very happy about the fact that our nation now has 13 frigates?

My Lords, we have come some way from frigates being built from wood but, wherever we are, we want to plant more trees. The important point about the northern forest is that it is overwhelmingly in an urban area. We are going through all the cities of the north, which means that the environment in those great cities will be enhanced. The northern forest is in parallel with the northern powerhouse initiative, and is great news for all the communities along it.

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend on the contribution that the Government are making to the northern forest. As a Yorkshire Water customer, I am delighted that it is planting trees in its own right. Will my noble friend agree that perhaps we should look at building ships from trees?

Well, my Lords, I think we should plant trees not just to supply the Royal Navy. It is certainly important that we are growing our own trees. That is why I am delighted that the trees planted on behalf of the Government will all be grown and sourced in this country. I think “Grown in Britain” is a very important feature of biosecurity.

My Lords, will the northern forest in any way compensate for the losses of ecology and biodiversity that we will experience with HS2? The National Trust says that over a dozen sites of special scientific interest will be affected and that we will lose 250 acres of green belt and more than 30—I have completely forgotten what I was going to say, but the point is that HS2 is going to be very damaging. I do not see how this northern forest can in any way compensate for the losses that we will experience from that.

My Lords, tree planting needs to take place across the United Kingdom. HS3 and the northern powerhouse will bring an improvement for all the communities of those cities. It is really important that we plant more trees and achieve our objective to increase tree cover across the country.

My Lords, obviously we welcome this initiative but, following on from the noble Baroness’s question, I point out the real challenge about protecting existing ancient woodlands. When I put a Written Question to the Minister a couple of months ago about how many trees were felled each year, rather than how many were planted, I was told that the Government did not keep that information. Is not there a need to have better protection for existing ancient woodland as well as the good initiatives that the Minister has described today?

My Lords, ancient woodland is clearly very important as part of the glories of our country. In fact, overall in England, the level of permanent ancient woodlands lost to other land uses was 57 hectares—0.02% between 2006 and 2015—but, actually, 13,481 hectares of planted ancient woodland sites have been restored since April 2011. We want to ensure protection, which is why Defra and other departments are working in terms of the National Planning Policy Framework, because we should cherish our ancient woodlands.