In October I had the pleasure of hosting a reception at The House of Commons to celebrate 25 years of The National Forest. What an enormous asset The National Forest is to South Derbyshire and the Midlands. The idea to create a forest in the heart of the industrial Midlands was conceived by the then Countryside Commission back in the late 1980’s. This group of visionaries came up with the idea of revitalising parts of the Midlands that had been decimated by the decline in traditional industries.
Within a short time, The National Forest has shown how to get regeneration right, using the environment to restore the landscape, economy and communities across 220 square miles of the Midlands. To date 8.5 million trees have been planted, increasing forest cover from just 6% to 20%, growing the value of the tourism economy in our area by 48% and inspiring over half a million children through its environmental education sessions.
The creation and development of The National Forest has been led for 20 years by The National Forest Company, supported by The Government through the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and working in partnership with businesses, individuals, local communities and many others. This April also saw The National Forest Company securing charitable status.
The transformation of the local economy is not confined to industrial areas. When local Farmer Andrew Kirkland first met a delegation looking at sustainable agriculture around his Grangewood Farm he did not think the National Forest project was for him. "In the 70s, we cut down trees, ripped up hedges and filled in ponds - and we were paid to do it," he says. Now, not only have trees, hedges and ponds been put back, but the farm is an equestrian centre with new parkland and 100 acres of woodland with footpaths open to the public.
As it was in the beginning, the strategy for the future of The National Forest aims to be dynamic and ambitious and I would urge you to get involved. This is your National Forest, enjoy it, share in the celebration and let The National Forest know your thoughts on the vision for the next 25 years. You can take part by going to www.nationalforest.org. where you will see a link to ‘My National Forest’. The idea is to capture a snapshot of the forest in its 25th year the organisation is looking to collect images, video, music or words from those using the National Forest. Also on the website is a link to a short Youtube video which features local farmer Andrew Kirkland talking with pride about his involvement in changing the rural landscape through his involvement with The National Forest. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PE5xhIanang&feature=youtu.be.
(This article was originally written for the Burton Mail).