Great Northumberland Forest fears

Concerns have been raised that plans for a Great Northumberland Forest of up to one million trees could repeat the mistakes of the past by focusing on sheer numbers at the expensive of diversity.

Friday, 17th September 2021, 12:15 pm
Updated Friday, 17th September 2021, 1:11 pm
Bosses behind the planned Great Northumberland Forest have been urged to focus on quality over quantity when work begins on the project.

It is hoped that up to one million trees will be planted across the county as part of the scheme by 2024.

But environment chiefs in the region have warned that it will take more than just eye-catching figures to make the scheme a success.

“It’s important, I think, given the emphasis on more tree planting because of climate change and the Great Northumberland Forest (GNF), to make sure there’s a distinction between covering more of the landscape with Sitka spruce and planting the right trees,” said Chris Mullin, a former MP for Sunderland and member of the Northumberland National Park Authority.

“There’s a danger, it seems to me, that the statistics may not distinguish between the two types, especially with the GNF, and it will be called a triumph if they plant [a large number] of trees, rather than particular types of trees.

“We should use our influence, such as it is, to try and push them down the right road.”

Plans for the GNF were unveiled in 2019 as part of government plans to hit the UK’s target of cutting net carbon emissions to zero by 2050.

Planting for the project started last year at Rushy Knowe, a new 145-hectare woodland on the shore of Kielder Water.

The creation of Kielder Forest started in 1926, with most land devoted to the North American Sitka spruce variety.

But by the 1970s the scheme was prompting criticism from environmental campaigners, who complained the intensive planting programme had created ‘regimented monocultures of alien species’.

Tony Gates, chief executive of the national park since 2005, said: “There’s a discussion to be had around land use, around nature recovery and carbon storage.

“There’s also a national woodland strategy and a peatland strategy and we’re looking at how best we can fit those in=[[[[.

“As a national park, we want to see the right tree in the right place [everywhere] and we’re playing our part to ensure the GNF includes everything from woodlands, community orchards and native woodland planting, through to commercial and productive woodland creation.”