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New Northern Forest takes root in Wigan

A thousand trees have been planted in Bickershaw, as part of the new Northern Forest plans
A thousand trees have been planted in Bickershaw, as part of the new Northern Forest plans

The seeds of an ambitious new “Northern Forest”, stretching from coast to coast and featuring 50 millon trees, have been planted in Wigan.

One thousand or so specimens have been installed as part of The Bickershaw Project by the City of Trees initiative and Lancashire Wildlife Trust.

These will form part of a sprawling woodland across northern counties, from Liverpool to Hull, which has been backed by a £5.7m grant from Environment Secretary Michael Gove.

Supporters hope the Northern Forest, to be created over the next 25 years and spanning 120 miles, will not only protect ancient woodlands from Greater Manchester and Merseyside to the Yorkshire Ridings but improve the habitats of red squirrels, woodland birds and bats.

Tony Hothersall, director of the Greater Manchester wide City of Trees, said: "The Northern Forest offers an amazing opportunity to link up many of the community based projects across the region.

"By working together we can enhance the resilience, attractiveness and sustainable economic future of the North, whilst reaping the many benefits trees bring.

"The Northern Forest also means we can really kick start higher levels of tree planting. Planting rates are dramatically low and in 2016 only 700 hectares of trees made it into the ground against the Government’s target of 5.000 hectares a year. There is a need for drastic change."

Austin Brady, the Woodland Trust’s conservation director, added: "England is losing tree cover. Existing approaches to increasing the extent of sustainably managed woods and increasing woodland cover are stalling and existing delivery mechanisms, such as community forests are under threat.

"A new Northern Forest could accelerate the benefits of community forestry, support landscape scale working for nature, delivering a wide range of benefits, including helping to reduce flood risk, and adapt some of the UK’s major towns and cities to projected climate change.

"The North of England is perfectly suited to reap the benefits of a project on this scale."

Late last summer Community Forests, which runs the Greater Manchester wide City of Trees scheme, teamed up with the wildlife trust to launch the regeneration of land surrounding the former Bickershaw Colliery.

Project officer Hamish Jefferson said of the Bickershaw effort: "Access to the site will be improved and key habitats, such as meadows and wetlands, will be developed to ensure the wildlife on site can flourish.

"Picnic tables and seating areas will be installed for the public to enjoy the beautiful views Bickershaw has to offer.

"There will be a big effort to reduce the amount of off-roading on site to protect the public and wildlife from harm, and importantly there will be a lot more opportunities for members of the community to get active on site."

Work has also been previously undertaken by City of Trees, which superceded the former Red Rose Forest, on helping the Friends of Amberswood to manage 122 hectares of prime land there.

The forest, for which private finance is being sought, will also take in Manchester, Bradford, Leeds and Hull.