The creation of a “national forest” is a success story which should be repeated elsewhere in England to deliver environmental and economic benefits to communities, according to MPs.
The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee said that 15 years since the National Forest scheme began across a 200 square mile swathe of the Midlands, the tree planting programme had provided benefits for nature, tourism and the local economy.
Describing the programme to increase woodland so that it will cover a third of the land as a “win-win” scheme, the committee’s chairman Michael Jack said it should be replicated elsewhere.
Other areas shortlisted for the original National Forest site, including Sherwood Forest, the Forest of Arden, Rockingham Forest and the Wyre Forest and Severn Valley, should be revisited as potential places to repeat the success, he suggested.
The National Forest, which covers an area stretching north west from the edge of Leicester up past, and including, Burton upon Trent, has trebled its tree cover from six per cent of the land to 18 per cent.
The scheme, run by the publicly funded National Forest Company, has created new areas of trees by buying land for planting and providing grants to farmers and landowners.
It has helped wildlife and created native woodland, regenerated old mining and brownfield sites, boosted leisure and tourism and provided economic opportunities and jobs in forestry and the wood fuel industry.
The report said a survey revealed 86 per cent of residents felt the local environment has been improved as a result of the forest’s creation.
Mr Jack urged the Government to maintain the “modest” amount of funding it put towards the National Forest - just over £40 million in 15 years - which he said delivered very cost-effective benefits.
In the next few years, with the pressure on the public purse, getting value for money was going to be crucial, he said.
But the National Forest was one such scheme which delivered a very good rate of return in terms of its benefits and lessons from the experience should be shared more widely across the country, he added.
The report also said that in order for English forests and woodlands to play a significant role in storing carbon and tackling climate change, there would “need to be national tree planting on an unprecedented scale”.
The forest offers a strong model for planting at the kind of pace needed to tackle climate change, Mr Jack said.
“Its achievements - in combining the afforestation of derelict mining sites with the creation of a new leisure industry which is both biodiverse and sustainable - are remarkable.
“At a challenging time for the economy, the project shows just how much forest development can be the catalyst for both job creation and inward investment.
“This success has been built on commitment and skills of all the National Forest’s partner organisations. Strong leadership has enabled the project to deliver significant multiple benefits to an area that had previously been in economic and environmental decline.”