Dan Jarvis: As a new Northern Forest grows, so will a healthier future

The Northern Forest has the potential to transform the region's environment, says Dan Jarvis.
The Northern Forest has the potential to transform the region's environment, says Dan Jarvis.
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YORKSHIRE is a county made up of great towns and cities that punctuate a landscape of woodlands, rivers, hills, dales, reservoirs, moors and lakes. It is this urban and rural mix that works together to create a place in which we’re proud to live, work and play. It is also an environment that attracts national and international visitors alike.

As the Mayor for the Sheffield City Region, it is my responsibility to nurture these natural assets as well as growing an economy that creates prosperity for all.

Dan Jarvis is mayor of Sheffield City Region.

Dan Jarvis is mayor of Sheffield City Region.

The Sheffield City Region, like much of the rest of Yorkshire, will see huge economic growth over the next 25 years. Our city region alone is an economy worth £34bn – and by 2040 it could be £55bn, with tens of thousands more jobs, homes and businesses.

According to the Woodland Trust, £75bn will be spent on concrete infrastructure across the North over the next 25 years. That’s 650,000 much needed homes and new infrastructure that will create jobs and grow the economy. But this creates a huge potential impact on our environment. And so, while we must continue to invest in our road, rail and air infrastructure, we must also place the protection and enhancement of our environment at the heart of our vision for the region.

Forests and woodlands must be central to this. By absorbing pollutants, producing oxygen and creating habitats for birds and wildlife, they are key to sustainable economic growth. If trees didn’t exist we would have to invent them.

And we’re also starting to understand their economic, social and environmental value as well, for example research from Manchester University shows that planned tree planting can reduce urban water run-off that leads to flooding of homes, businesses and schools by 80 per cent. Investment in our natural capital is just as important as transport, industry, homes and leisure facilities.

The Northern Forest movement, led by the fantastic work of the Woodland Trust and Community Forests, is central to this plan. There is a growing movement of community groups, businesses, politicians and local communities working to plant 50 million trees across the industrial North by 2043.

This forest will stretch from Liverpool and Manchester, over the Pennines, through the Leeds and Sheffield City Regions across to Hull. It will be Britain’s boldest woodland creation drive for a generation.

In March this year, I was proud to be part of the team taking part in the first planting of this new Northern Forest. To build on this I have written to more than 600 schools across the Sheffield City Region, urging them to join a scheme led by the Woodland Trust to plant trees this autumn, in commemoration of the end of the First World War.

The Woodland Trust already do great work with schools across the country by providing them with saplings for planting, as well as providing a wealth of advice and support. By linking this initiative with the one hundredth anniversary of the end of the First World War, this will be a powerful symbol of reflection and remembrance as well as providing a fantastic opportunity to inspire our young people about the environment and the role that woodlands and forests play.

And this is just the start. Over the coming months and years, I intend to put in place plans for the planting of a million trees in the Sheffield City Region. This will ensure that we play a full part local part in creating this new Northern Forest.

This is an important mission. It is one that businesses, communities, and politicians from across the political spectrum, from parish councils to Westminster, must now become a part of. By investing in our forests and woodlands we invest in a healthier, happier and more productive future.

Recent moorland fires that have damaged some of the newly planted Northern Forest remind us that our environment is fragile. Which is why it’s crucial that we invest in our woodlands and forests just as we do with our roads, railways and runways. By doing so we can help mitigate the impact of flooding, reduce pollution and reconnect our communities with our own natural environment.

That is something well worth putting our collective weight behind.

Dan Jarvis is the elected mayor of Sheffield City Region.

FIGURES from the Woodland Trust show that the UK has only 13 per cent woodland cover, compared with an EU average of 37 per cent. That’s why the organisation is creating areas of new native trees and woods.

The Woodland Trust plants new trees and woodland close to existing wildlife-rich areas such as ancient woods or concentrations of ancient trees. This buffers them from the impacts of neighbouring land use and connects existing habitats.

Only 18 per cent of people in the UK currently have a wood within easy walking distance. Planting schemes organised by the Woodland Trust aim to create new woods near communities.