There is a deep pleasure in planting a tree, tinged by the knowledge that you are planting for future generations, for should it live to its natural span, the tree will last longer than you will. Occasionally, I still see the tree that I was selected to plant in a local park when I was ten years old and get a feeling of pride knowing that it is still there over half a century later, now transformed from a fragile sapling into a sturdy birch. I don't see it often, but it is still there in my mind, the first among several that I have put into the good Earth. But any planting of a woodland is an act of generosity from the present to the future, and this is what is to happen in the North of England over the next twenty five years.
England's north consists of five counties, in the North West two and North East three, the two groups being divided by the long Pennine Hills that stretch from the midlands to the Scottish borders. As you can see from the map the towns at the opposite sides are Liverpool and Hull, and between them there is an area marked in green, which indicates a national park, the scenic Peak District, Britain's first national park. The new Northern Forest will stretch from Liverpool in the West to Hull in the East and going north-eastwards along the M62 corridor towards Leeds.
But be aware that the term forest is a bit flexible. When the Americans speak of forest they refer to the massive woodlands of North America. Well, ours are inevitably smaller than this. Furthermore, forest is a technical term in English law that did not originally denote only a woodland, but a stretch of land, sometimes moorland, reserved for royal hunting, which provided the king's court with venison and wild boar meat. The royal hunting bit has ended now. So the new Northern Forest will not consist of unbroken, extended woodland coverage, but of a network of interlinked woods from one side of the country to the other. As Northern England is the narrowest region of the country, you can do this, while it would be far more difficult in the far larger southern parts of the island.
Northern England needs trees. It is an industrial landscape of large conurbations, small towns and mining villages, which acquired its present structure at the industrial revolution. There are wasted, now derelict industrial lands and abandoned coal mines in places. In the middle is the often bleak Pennine Range, whose centre is the dry, bare limestone sheep farming landscape, with rims of millstone grit, the landscape of the Bronte sisters. Some of the summits are covered with thick boglands, places that are of national importance as I will show further on. This is not to say that there is no natural beauty, for there is much of it, including stretches of farmland, but the beauty is often wild, empty moorland and it is considered that there are not enough woodlands, especially outside the national park.