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National Forest Company celebrates 20 years and hits 20 per cent forest cover

Thursday, 16th July 2015

National Forest Company celebrates 20th anniversary

Ambassadors for The National Forest joined directors and staff to celebrate 20 years of the National Forest Company yesterday (15 July 2015).

The National Forest Company (NFC) was created by government in 1995 to take forward the creation of The National Forest, one of the boldest environmental initiatives in the country. 

On a visit to the Forest earlier this year, Lord Heseltine, who had been Secretary of State for the Environment at the time the Forest was initiated, called it a visionary project that captured the imagination of so many members of the community.

At yesterday’s event, Rodney Swarbrick, who served as the first NFC Chairman from 1995 – 2001, commented how wonderful it was to see the progress of The National Forest. He said:  “It was all faith, now it is a reality. It’s quite an emotional day.”

Over the last 20 years the NFC has worked with partners, businesses, local authorities, charities and individuals to successfully take the amount of forest cover – trees, woodlands and associated habitats – from a meagre 6% in the early 1990s to the impressive 20% as announced in the NFC’s recently published annual report.  Through the planting of over 8 million trees, the work of the National Forest Company continues to bring economic, social and environmental benefits to its communities.

The area covered by The National Forest, 200 square miles of both the East and West Midlands, was originally chosen because of the need to regenerate the former Midlands Coalfield at the heart of the Forest. The creation of The National Forest was to join the ancient forests of Charnwood in the east and Needwood in the west, through a mosaic of towns, villages, farmland, industrial units, transport corridors and open space – all framed by woodland. It is a unique example of environmentally-led economic regeneration.

NFC Chair Catherine Graham-Harrison said: “To reach 20% cover in the twentieth year of the Company is a wonderful achievement. It would not have been possible without the commitment and support of our communities, our landowners, our businesses and all our supporters.

“We believe we are now in an even stronger place to lead our partners to increase forest cover beyond 20%, develop new woodland management and business opportunities, extend the visitor and tourism offer, and engage local communities in the social benefits the Forest provides. This really is an exciting phase in the Forest’s development, where the vision and dedication of the last 20 years is coming to fruition.”

The National Forest Ambassadors walked around Sarah’s Wood before hearing presentations on the progress of The National Forest, and the plans for the NFC’s bid for charitable status to take forward the company’s new strategy announced last year.

The party then visited Hicks Lodge: the National Forest Cycle Centre.  Here they heard about the new Heritage Lottery-funded Black to Green project with the Heart of the Forest Forum.  This three year, £770,000 project will conserve and enhance the Heart of the Forest, the most radically transformed landscape within the 200 square miles of the Forest. Hicks Lodge itself, with café, visitor centre, nine miles of safe off-road cycle trails, lake and natural play area, is built on the site of a former open cast mine.

As the group returned to Conkers Waterside they also viewed new woodland planting at Feanedock and Boothorpe and were given an insight into farm diversification at Hanging Hill Farm.