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More than 7,500 acres of new woodland cover is to be planted along England’s rivers and watercourses under a new programme announced by Lord Goldsmith, the forestry minister.
Woodlands for Water, backed by a number of environmental organisations, will aim to plant the trees in six river catchment areas from Devon to Cumbria by March 2025, with the aim of getting the first trees into the ground this winter.
Among the rivers where the project will take place are the Tamar and Fowey in Devon and Cornwall, the Wye and Usk in Gloucestershire and Herefordshire, and the Eden and Derwent in Cumbria.
The expectation is that the trees will reduce flooding and increase water quality by slowing surface water runoff and trapping pollutants.
Riparian woodland can also stabilise riverbanks via its network of roots, make rivers more resilient to climate change by providing shade and create new habitat for at-risk wildlife.
'Hugely exciting and untapped area for woodland creation'
Speaking from the National Trust’s Buscot and Coleshill Estates in Oxfordshire on Friday, Lord Goldsmith said: “This is a hugely exciting and untapped area for woodland creation. The benefits of planting trees by rivers are vast – from helping biodiversity recover by creating more natural riverbanks, to slowing the flow of surface water to reduce the risk of flooding, and improving water quality by buffering rivers from harmful agricultural pollution.”
Many of the UK’s flood plains are in a precarious state, with a report in 2017 finding that 90 per cent are no longer functioning properly.
The announcement was welcomed by the Country Land & Business Association (CLA), which represents 28,000 farmers and landowners.
“It’s a real boost for the sector,” said CLA president Mark Bridgeman. “The grants cover the costs of planting, provide flexibility on what you can plant and where and there are financial incentives for delivering public benefits. It’s schemes like this which are key to achieving biodiversity recovery.”
The tree-planting programme will be carried out by the Riverscapes partnership, which involves the National Trust, Rivers Trust, Beaver Trust, and the Woodland Trust and is being supported by Defra.
It forms part of the £500 million England Trees Action Plan which commits the Government to planting 75,000 acres of trees a year by the end of the current Parliament.
England is one of the least forested countries in Europe, with just 10 per cent of its land covered by woodland. France and Germany are 31 and 33 per cent forested, respectively.