The National Forest

Our April speaker was the Chief Executive of The National Forest Company, Sophie Churchill. Some years ago, her predecessor, Susan Bell gave us our first insight into this nationally unique project. Time has moved on and the growing success of the Forest was very apparent from Sophie's presentation.

To remind members, the National Forest embraces 200 square miles of the Midlands, across parts of Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Staffordshire, including the north east of Lichfield District. It is transforming the landscape with the aim of linking the two ancient forests of Cannock Chase and Charnwood. Not all the land will be afforested. The target is for a patchwork of woodlands and agricultural land, interspersed with settlements like Burton, Coalville, Ashby and Swadlincote. About seven million trees have already been planted since the late 1980s, covering 18% of the area. The target is 30% tree cover

Those areas that have been planted invariably provide new opportunities for public access, and hence to be explored and enjoyed. Although some of the land was originally in agricultural use, sizeable areas were derelict, the consequence of coal mining and mineral extraction. The Company, which is controlled by DEFRA, owns very little of the land, but promotes tree planting through its own unique grants scheme, aimed at ensuring that quality planting takes place.

The Company is not only there to encourage the planting of trees, but to stimulate the local economy, encourage agricultural diversification, tourism and new, woodland based industry. It actively involves the public in planting schemes, supports schools projects and works with local communities and private businesses who may want to support new woodland planting.

Sophie's relaxed fireside style made for a pleasant evening's informal discussion. Would that more than thirty members could have managed to attend!

Roger Hockney
April 2008