Swathes of mixed native broadleaf woodland will be created in and around Leeds and other major urban centres in the North to create a 120-mile stretch of forest between Liverpool and Hull.
Targeted at areas where trees can boost health and wellbeing, the aim is to create wildlife habitat, protect species such as red squirrels and offer more public access to woodlands.
Led by the Woodland Trust, it will be created by connecting five Community Forests, including Leeds White Rose Forest, Hull’s HEYwoods Project and South Yorkshire Community Forest. In partnership with other bodies, 25,000 hectares of woodland will be established at a total cost of £500m over the project’s 25 years.
The Government hopes private landowners will also get involved.
Once complete, it is forecast to generate £2bn for the economy by growing tourism, boosting rural businesses and generating jobs, increasing property values and limiting the impact of flooding.
Austin Brady, the Woodland Trust’s conservation director, said it will deliver a better environment for all by locking up carbon on a large scale, boosting wildlife and “greening” towns and cities, while Environment Secretary Michael Gove said it is an “ambitious and exciting project that will create a vast ribbon of woodland cover in northern England stretching from coast to coast”.
Others sounded a cautious note. Dorothy Fairburn, regional director of the Country Land and Business Association, warned: “For this project to succeed it will be vital to have in place the right regulatory and planning framework that allows landowners to exploit commercial forestry and other leisure opportunities.”
And Prof Ian Rotherham, of Sheffield Hallam University, added: “It is vital this vision takes into account other things beyond just planting trees to provide a more holistic environmental vision and to also involve and engage local people.”