A North East MEP has led a delegation of forestry experts on a fact-finding tour of Northumberland, which saw him the plant first conifer tree in a new commercial woodland.
Paul Brannen, a member of the European Agriculture and Rural Development Committee, joined key figures from the UK forestry and timber sector on the fact-finding mission organised by the Hexham-based Egger Forestry.
As part of the event, he visited the Wallshield planting site near Haltwhistle, a stretch of former farmland that is being coverted into a major woodland project.
Proposals for the site were adapted following concerns over the likes of visual impact and effect on wildlife habitats. Having now received planning consent, the development will contribute to Government targets to increase woodland across England from 10% to 12% by 2060.
Egger Forest Management’s general manager Simon Hart, who was among the delegation with Mr Brannen, said: “This was a historic day for the Northumberland rural economy and marked the start of the first new conifer planting scheme in England for the last five years.
“All of us in the sector are pleased Wallshield got the go-ahead, even though it had to be reduced in size from the original proposal, and credit must go to the Forestry Commission for steering it through in the face of opposition from the Northumberland National Park.
“It’s fantastic to see this level of interest shown by a local MEP, who is championing the planting of more trees in the UK and will be lobbying on the region’s behalf in Brussels.”
Mr Brannen also visited a harvesting site and sawmill near Rothbury, and saw firsthand how sawmill waste and roundwood unsuitable for other commercial uses can be used by companies like Egger in the manufacture of chipboard for the construction and furniture industries.
He was likewise updated on the Roots to Prosperity initiative that aims to create 1,000 new jobs in Northumberland.
The project, which is backed by industry, local authorities, the North East LEP and others is looking at the creation of 2,000ha of new productive woodland afforestation every year for a decade, covering roughly 10% of the land suitable for planting in the north of England.
Mr Brannen said: “I am a strong supporter of forestry and am backing plans to increase woodland cover in the future, particularly in England.
“Forestry is good for jobs and leisure opportunities, and also gives a boost to the environment.
“I was thrilled to plant a tree in a new commercial woodland but am disappointed that it’s the first newly established woodland in England for five years. That is a real worry and we have to do better.
“The day essentially highlighted the life cycle of wood, from a tree planting to logging to a sawmill and then on to Egger in Hexham to see how they create wood products for top spec kitchens and house builders.
“It was a useful day and I’m proud to be able to highlight the importance of forestry to the North East. It is a vital part of our economy and one which could grow in the future.”