Great Northumberland Forest project hailed as huge boost for rural communities

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A project to plant millions of trees across Northumberland has been hailed for its role in promoting ‘agro-forestry’.

The Great Northumberland Forest, which was launched in 2021 and is funded by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) aims to create more wooded landscapes in a bid to tackle climate change and biodiversity loss.

Despite the name, it is not one single forest – but rather lots of small areas of planting.

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Funding allows the forest team to help landowners plant trees in smaller areas which wouldn’t normally qualify for financial help.

Launch of the Great Northumberland Forest at Kirkharle Courtyard in 2021. Picture: Northumberland County CouncilLaunch of the Great Northumberland Forest at Kirkharle Courtyard in 2021. Picture: Northumberland County Council
Launch of the Great Northumberland Forest at Kirkharle Courtyard in 2021. Picture: Northumberland County Council

The project also helped repair some of the damage caused by Storm Arwen in 2021.

Council leader Glen Sanderson, at the council’s communities and place scrutiny committee, said: “The idea is not to build another huge, great big Kielder Forest, but to encourage community orchards and small plots of planting.

“This is one of the biggest single projects that a county council is delivering and I’m very proud of that.”

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Cllr Mark Mather, a farmer who represents Wooler ward, said the project had been hugely beneficial to farming communities.

He said: “As a tenant farmer, agro-forestry all of a sudden makes me excited about trees. We have seen trees as a potential end for our industry, but all of a sudden agro-forestry and all of the positives it brings for the environment allows people, families and communities to continue to work the land and have food security.

“It is really important we continue down the agro-forestry route. We need to ensure we have entrants or pathways for tenant farmers.

“Northumberland has the highest percentage of tenant farmers in the country, it’s really important that we don’t cut that large percentage of land out.”

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Just 3% of UK farmland practices agro-forestry – but The Woodland Trust say 10% could help the Government hit climate targets.

Cllr Mather added: “Agro-forestry is really exciting because it provides a number of benefits for livestock. It acts as shelter in the winter and shade in the summer.

“I think the key for me, being a farmer, is we still have that agriculture and food production which is at the heart of our community, and we also add to the green agenda.

“It is good for the environment, good for land and good for the livestock.”