As a new for­est grows, so will a health­ier fu­ture

Yorkshire Post - - OPINION -

YORK­SHIRE IS a county made up of great towns and cities that punc­tu­ate a land­scape of wood­lands, rivers, hills, dales, reser­voirs, moors and lakes. It is this ur­ban and ru­ral mix that works to­gether to cre­ate a place in which we’re proud to live, work and play. It is also an en­vi­ron­ment that at­tracts na­tional and in­ter­na­tional vis­i­tors alike.

As the Mayor for the Sh­effield City Re­gion, it is my re­spon­si­bil­ity to nur­ture these nat­u­ral as­sets as well as grow­ing an econ­omy that cre­ates pros­per­ity for all.

The Sh­effield City Re­gion, like much of the rest of York­shire, will see huge eco­nomic growth over the next 25 years. Our city re­gion alone is an econ­omy worth £34bn – and by 2040 it could be £55bn, with tens of thou­sands more jobs, homes and busi­nesses.

Ac­cord­ing to the Wood­land Trust, £75bn will be spent on con­crete in­fra­struc­ture across the North over the next 25 years. That’s 650,000 much-needed homes and new in­fra­struc­ture that will cre­ate jobs and grow the econ­omy. But this cre­ates a huge po­ten­tial im­pact on our en­vi­ron­ment. And so, while we must con­tinue to in­vest in our road, rail and air in­fra­struc­ture, we must also place the pro­tec­tion and en­hance­ment of our en­vi­ron­ment at the heart of our vi­sion for the re­gion.

Forests and wood­lands must be cen­tral to this. By ab­sorb­ing pol­lu­tants, pro­duc­ing oxy­gen and cre­at­ing habi­tats for birds and wildlife, they are key to sus­tain­able eco­nomic growth. If trees didn’t ex­ist we would have to in­vent them.

And we’re also start­ing to un­der­stand their eco­nomic, so­cial and en­vi­ron­men­tal value as well; for ex­am­ple, re­search from Manch­ester Uni­ver­sity shows that planned tree-plant­ing can re­duce ur­ban wa­ter run-off that leads to flood­ing of homes, busi­nesses and schools by 80 per cent. In­vest­ment in our nat­u­ral cap­i­tal is just as im­por­tant as trans­port, in­dus­try, homes and leisure fa­cil­i­ties.

The North­ern For­est move­ment, led by the fan­tas­tic work of the Wood­land Trust and Com­mu­nity Forests, is cen­tral to this plan. There is a grow­ing move­ment of com­mu­nity groups, busi­nesses, politi­cians and lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties work­ing to plant 50 mil­lion trees across the in­dus­trial North by 2043.

This for­est will stretch from Liver­pool and Manch­ester, over the Pen­nines, through the Leeds and Sh­effield City Re­gions across to Hull. It will be Bri­tain’s bold­est wood­land cre­ation drive for a gen­er­a­tion.

In March this year, I was proud to be part of the team tak­ing part in the first plant­ing of this new North­ern For­est. To build on this I have writ­ten to more than 600 schools across the Sh­effield City Re­gion, urg­ing them to join a scheme led by the Wood­land Trust to plant trees this au­tumn, in com­mem­o­ra­tion of the end of the First World War.

The Wood­land Trust al­ready do great work with schools across the coun­try by pro­vid­ing them with saplings for plant­ing, as well as pro­vid­ing a wealth of ad­vice and sup­port. By link­ing this ini­tia­tive with the 100th an­niver­sary of the end of the First World War, this will be a pow­er­ful sym­bol of re­flec­tion and re­mem­brance as well as pro­vid­ing a fan­tas­tic op­por­tu­nity to in­spire our young peo­ple about the en­vi­ron­ment and the role that wood­lands and forests play.

And this is just the start. Over the com­ing months and years, I in­tend to put in place plans for the plant­ing of a mil­lion trees in the Sh­effield City Re­gion. This will en­sure that we play a full part lo­cal part in cre­at­ing this new North­ern For­est.

This is an im­por­tant mis­sion. It is one that busi­nesses, com­mu­ni­ties and politi­cians from across the po­lit­i­cal spec­trum, from parish coun­cils to West­min­ster, must now be­come a part of. By in­vest­ing in our forests and wood­lands we in­vest in a health­ier, hap­pier and more pro­duc­tive fu­ture.

Re­cent moor­land fires that have dam­aged some of the newly planted North­ern For­est re­mind us that our en­vi­ron­ment is frag­ile. Which is why it’s cru­cial that we in­vest in our wood­lands and forests just as we do with our roads, rail­ways and run­ways. By do­ing so we can help mit­i­gate the im­pact of flood­ing, re­duce pol­lu­tion and re­con­nect our com­mu­ni­ties with our own nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment.

That is some­thing well worth putting our col­lec­tive weight be­hind.

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