The Northern Forest

The Woodland Trust, alongside The Community Forest Trust are undertaking to plant 50 million trees over 25 years to create a forest in the North of England. There’s details and a map on this website –

The government are investing £5.7 million in this scheme. However, it doesn’t let them off the hook for loss of ancient forests elsewhere. It concerns me that politicians don’t seem to grasp what a wood actually is. A wood is more than just planting some trees. If you plant trees in what was previously a field, unless that field was itself ancient woodland within the last fifty years, you probably just get trees in a field. You don’t get a wood. If your field is right next to an established wood, this can also work. A woodland is also the low to the ground plants, the fungi in the soil, the birds, insects, animals. You can’t offset the cutting down of ancient woodland.

I’ve seen trees planted in fields, and they do not feel like woods. They are missing much of what makes a wood into a wood.

Given the scale of The Northern Forest it is clearly going to have sections next to existing woods, allowing the expansion of habitat for woodland plants and creatures. With the twenty five year time scale, there’s every reason to think this can be done in a way that expands existing woodland, rather than just sticking trees in fields.

I’m excited to see people in the UK talking about tree planting as a way to deal with flooding. We send experts to developing countries to tell them to grow trees on high ground to better manage rainwater, but in the UK too much of our high ground has grouse moors on it. I wonder how much land currently wasted as grouse moors will be allowed to return to a more natural condition in the areas where this is happening. The forest will surround Manchester, location of the infamous grouse moor in protest song ‘I’m a rambler’.

Articles about the project talk about improvements to air quality and to the mental health of people living in cities that the forest will embrace. This is good in many ways, but it is not the answer to either air quality or the current crisis in mental health. We need to cut pollution to improve air quality. We need to deal with causes of anxiety and stress to solve mental health problems (excellent article here – And yes, tree planting is a good answer to excess rain, but we need to do more than tree planting to deal with the climate crisis causing the excess rain in the first place.

While I am always going to be in favour of tree planting, my worry is that this will be used by politicians as a way of saying they are dealing with issues. It could be a big PR and greenwashing exercise if we aren’t careful. It does not substitute for affordable public transport, reducing air pollution, dealing with an increasingly toxic work culture or tackling the root causes of climate change. Even planting 50 million trees in the UK (which sounds like a lot, I know) does not give us the freedom to carry on exactly as we are.


About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

10 responses to “The Northern Forest

  • vivianehinds

    Thank you. You have summed up my thoughts on the matter really well. It will be interesting to see how this project develops.

  • Jen - Liminal Luminous

    yes, absolutely it is far too easy to lose our ancient woodlands. Like you say, they are far more than trees.

  • Martina Ramsauer

    I very much appreciate and agree with your post.:) Thank you very much.

  • Eliza Ayres

    Reblogged this on Blue Dragon Journal and commented:
    Years of walking through the wet woods of Washington State gave me insight into the importance of real woods, one with mosses, mushrooms, and low-growing plants, middle-range trees and shrubs (berries and maples, etc.) as well as the upper range trees, conifers, softwoods, and hardwoods. To walk through a forest is a form of meditation, but let it be a true forest, not a tree farm. There is a distinct felt difference between the two.

  • Donnalee

    This is very thoughtful and I appreciate it. A wood is a whole ecosystem, a whole life support system for all sorts of beings, from trees to birds and animals to microbes and fungi and on and on–let’s hope we all get smarter. These days too many sadly do not know the difference even between things like ‘dirt’ and ‘soil’, soil being alive with microbes etc., whereas to my mind mere dirt is what is left after folks do that dreadful dustbwlw-creating blowdrying of leaves etc. Let’s hope for the best for all!

  • Meredith

    Lovely blogpost, and I had NO IDEA about this project! Please remind me to lend you Gossip from the Forest by Sara Maitland at some point – it’s about forests and fairytales and I’d love to know what you think of it. She visited a different UK forest in a different month for a year, and then reinterpreted a fairytale having done that.

  • lornasmithers

    Whilst the plans for a northern forest are all good this certainly doesn’t let them off the hook for cutting down existing trees and woodlands like those plane trees in London. I think the emphasis on connectivity is important. I noticed new flood trees on one of the banks of the Ribble last time I cycled down the Ribble way which is a sign of improvement at least.

  • Connecting up trees | Druid Life

    […] I wrote about plans to develop a Northern Forest, and I was sceptical about government involvement – because I always am. Politicians are prone to […]

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