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'Green Gold' - Minister Launches New Delivery Plan for The National Forest

Wednesday, 1st April 2009

Huw Irranca-Davies, Minister for the Natural and Marine Environment, Wildlife and Rural Affairs prou

Huw Irranca-Davies, Minister for the Natural and Marine Environment, Wildlife and Rural Affairs, launched the new Delivery Plan for The National Forest 2009 – 2014 during a recent visit to The National Forest. 

Earlier in the day he planted a birch tree in the grounds of the new youth hostel at the Heart of the National Forest in Moira, to celebrate The National Forest reaching 18% woodland cover, three times the amount when Forest creation started in the early 1990s.

The Minister said this increase in woodland had transformed the area like ‘green gold’.  He said: ‘There is no better place for a National Forest; no better place for the development of a project such as this because of its transformative effect.’

In drawing up the new Delivery Plan, the National Forest Company led a major consultation last year to find out how the people who live and work in the Forest view its development now and into the future.  The review resulted in an exciting plan to take the Forest forward, implementing the National Forest Strategy, which runs until 2014.

At the launch event for the new plan, NFC Chair Dinah Nichols thanked the audience of over 100 representatives of partner organisations, members of the local community and Forest businesses for their enthusiasm and support for the Forest.  She said the Company had been delighted with the response to the consultation, which had taken into account a changing context and had resulted in five key messages:

Keep creating The National Forest
Make the most of what has been created already
Its communities are the heart of the Forest
Keep telling the story of the Forest
It is a national showcase

As part of the consultation, 1,200 residents and 50 organisations gave their views about what the Forest meant to them, how much planting will be done each year and how this planting will continue to transform and benefit the landscape.

They also emphasised the importance of the quality of the woodlands and the whole Forest, to ensure a good return for woodland owners, through looking after their woods, and the best experience for visitors and residents.

The annual rate of planting the Forest will reduce from the 400 – 450 ha assumed by the Strategy, to 200 – 250 ha. ‘This,’ said Dinah Nichols, ‘reflects the likely amount of land available for planting to 2014. However, it is still an extremely ambitious target and one which will continue the transformation of the Forest’s 200 square miles. Looking after new and existing woodlands, and the focus on quality in attractions, facilities and woodlands, are increased priorities to 2014, which will set the Forest on a good course for its long term future.’

Dinah Nichols also said that the NFC heard the need to communicate more to local people about plans for the Forest and this would be responded to.

During his visit to the new youth hostel earlier in the day, the Minister had been intrigued to find out about the wood fuel heating system.

He said: ‘Wood fuel has the potential to play an important part in renewable energy.  Wood energy works best at a local level with woodlands close at hand.  It provides an opportunity for local authorities, for schools and businesses, together with woodland owners, and I’m pleased that the National Forest Company is working with other regional partners to promote it.  And expanding good and effective woodland management can help provide those sustainable sources that underpin it.’

He concluded:  ‘What I believe is one of the most impressive facets of the development of The National Forest - and which the public consultation on the Strategy so strikingly emphasised – is the partnership working and the community involvement. When 86% of respondents consider that you have made a difference to their local environment you are clearly doing something right, something tangible that is being recognised.

He urged the members of the audience and other partners to continue to help develop the Forest through supporting the Delivery Plan, to build the success of the Forest from year to year.