After 25 years, the decision to site the National Forest amid derelict coal and quarry operates has borne spectacular fruit
Twenty-five years ago, the Midlands villages of Moira, Donisthorpe and Overseal overlooked a gruesome scenery. The communities were surrounded by opencast mines, old clay quarries, spoiling heaps, derelict coal functionings, polluted waterways and all the other ecological wreckage of heavy industry.
The air smelt and savoured unpleasant and the land was poisoned. There were next to no trees , not many jobs and little wildlife. Following the closure of the pits, people were deserting the area for Midlands cities such as Birmingham, Derby and Leicester. The future appeared bleak.
Today, a pastoral renaissance is taking place. Around dozens of former mining and industrial communities, in what was the broken heart of the old Midlands coalfield, a vast, splendid forest of native oak, ash and birch trees is emerging, attracting cyclists, walkers, birdwatchers, canoeists, campers and horse-riders.
Britains trees have come under increasing assault from exotic diseases, and the grants for planting woodland are drying up, so the 200 sq miles of the National Forest come as a welcome good news story. The new woodland in the Midlands is proving that large-scale tree planting is not just good value for fund, but can also have immense social, economic and ecological benefits.
In this one corner of the Midlands, more than 8.5 m trees have been planted in 25 years, hundreds of miles of footpath have been created and 500 abandoned industrial sites have been transformed. The scenery and ecology of semi-derelict Britain has been resurrected and rewilded with trees.
I came here from Staffordshire 62 years ago, says Graham Knight, a former coalface technologist who lives near Moira and now works for a retraining charity. It was clay pits, quarries, coal ours, chimneys, sewer pipes, and kilns then. It was very unhealthy, pretty grim. It was a hard life and it toughened people up. The region went into steep deterioration when the industry closed and almost everything vanished. It has changed from a wasteland to an environment that we envied.
People love trees. They like to see woods and timbers. In those days you would go to a place like this for holidays. People are moving in and communities are growing.
Many of the young trees in the National Forest are little more than lashes because hundreds of hectares are being planted every year as more derelict sites are taken over. But the trees that were dug in 25 years ago now stand 30 ft tall and need to be thinned.
Along with the maturing trees have come buzzards and red kites, skylarks, butterflies, otters, at-bats and owls.
As the trees continue to grow, bugs, small mammals and flora will come too, says John Everitt, director of the not-for-profit National Forest company, which has taken over many of the areas old industrial workings and also advises landowners and farmers about switching from low-grade farmland to forest and woodland.
This is one of the largest landscape transformations in the United Kingdom, the first major forest “mustve been” planted in England for 1,000 years. We have taken a black hole and given it a new lease of life; given people a new scenery they can identify with. We can say that air pollution is better, the rivers are cleaner, the water is being retained better and soil is being better conserved.
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