The 25-year scheme will see 50 million trees stretch from Liverpool to Hull, taking in urban centres like Manchester

First, some chirpy stats.

Living in Manchester means that - compared to most of the UK - you are 73% more likely to die from COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), 25% more likely to die from asthma and 74% more likely to die from lung cancer. What’s more, parts of the city centre are more than 50% over the legal limit of nitrogen dioxide air pollution.

These depressing statistics from Help Britain Breathe illustrate that, despite accolades such as Manchester University being recognised as the world’s first carbon-literate university, we still have a long way to go - interactive tree trails aside.  

While trees aren’t the only way to improve air quality, they undoubtedly help. Lucky, then, that plans to plant over 50 million across the North - starting in Bolton, eventually stretching 120 miles from Liverpool to Hull - received government backing this week.

2018 01 08 Smithills Estate
Planting of the Northern Forest will begin at Bolton’s Smithills Estate Woodland Trust

The aptly-named ‘Northern Forest’ will use the M62 as its spine: incorporating Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield, Leeds, Chester and Hull as well as major towns across the north. Delivered by the Woodland Trust and the Community Forest Trust over 25 years, the scheme is expected to cost around £500 million; with £5.7 million from the government and the rest to come via charity. 

It is estimated the forest could ultimately generate £2 billion in the longer term through jobs, tourism, reduced flooding impact and, naturally, better quality of life.  

So why the North? A population in excess of 13 million, expected to rise by 9% over the next twenty years - including 20% in Manchester city centre alone by 2025 - may signify regional growth, yet our environment takes the hit. 

Coupled with the North’s woeful lack of woodland cover at just 7.6% (way below the UK average of 13%, and even shamefully further below the EU average of 44%), and you can see the need for forest-sized measures. What’s more, regional tree-planting rates are dramatically low: just 700 hectares in 2016, 4300 less than the Government’s target. 

2018 01 08 Northern Forest 2
The forest will stretch from Liverpool to Hull, with the M62 as its backbone

The Northern Forest will connect five community forests in the North of England: the Mersey Forest, South Yorkshire Community Forest, Leeds White Rose Forest, HEYwoods Project (in Hull, not Heywood) and Manchester’s own City of Trees; which aims to plant a tree for every Mancunian within a generation. Comprised of native broadleaf trees, it will form part of the government’s clean air strategy, also aiming to tackle England’s overall decline in tree cover and community forestry. 

Planting will commence in March, at Bolton’s Smithills Estate. 

Paul Nolan, director of the Mersey Forest said: “The Northern Forest will complement the planned £75bn of hard infrastructure investment across the M62 corridor. We have shown that we can lock up over 7m tonnes of carbon as well as potentially reduce flood risk for 190,000 homes. The Northern Forest can also help to deliver improved health and wellbeing, through programmes such as the Natural Health Service.

"We welcome the government support for the idea and we are looking forward to accelerating the work of the Community Forest Trust across the Northern Forest."