AMBITIOUS plans to create a new Northern Forest of more than 50 million trees have been announced.

The Government has given its backing to the 25-year scheme, which will see the forest stretch 120 miles from Liverpool to Hull with the M62 as its spine.

The project will embrace Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield, Leeds, Chester and Hull, as well as major towns.

Woodland cover in the UK averages only 13 per cent compared to 44 per cent in Europe – in the North it only averages 7.6 per cent.

The Woodland Trust, which, with The Community Forest Trust, are behind the plan, says there was only 700 hectares of tree planting in 2016 compared to the Government target of 5,000 hectares a year.

They say the forest will have major environmental, social and economic benefits for the North whose 13 million population is expected to rise nine per cent over the next 20 years.

The trees will improve the air quality in towns and cities; reduce flood risks; support the rural economy through tourism, recreation and timber production; connect people with nature; and help improve people’s health and wellbeing.

Austin Brady, Woodland Trust director of conservation, said: “England is losing tree cover.

“Existing approaches to increasing woodland cover are stalling and existing delivery mechanisms, such as Community Forests are under threat.

“The North of England is perfectly suited to reap the benefits of a project on this scale. But this must be a joined-up approach.

“We’ll need to continue to work with Government, and other organisations to harness new funding mechanisms such as those promised in the Clean Growth Strategy to plant extensive areas of woodland to lock up carbon. This will ensure we can make a difference long term.”

The Government has given £6m to kickstart the project under its 25 Year Environment Plan.

Environment Secretary Michael Gove said: “This new Northern Forest is an ambitious and exciting project that will create a vast ribbon of woodland cover in northern England stretching from coast to coast, providing a rich habitat for wildlife to thrive, and a natural environment for millions of people to enjoy.

“It will help us deliver a Green Brexit and help deliver our pledge to leave the environment in a better state than we found it.”

The first planting will be in March, supported by funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund, at the Woodland Trust’s 680-hectare flagship site at Smithills, Bolton.

The Woodland Trust is already committed to investing over £10m in this project and several others.

The CLA has welcomed the initiative. Dorothy Fairburn, CLA Director North, said: “We support all well thought through and properly funded planting schemes.

“The key to success is not just grants to support establishment of new forests but recognition of the management requirement for forestry, so it is essential to engage with landowners early doors.

“For this project to succeed it will also be vital to have in place the right regulatory and planning framework that allows landowners to exploit commercial forestry and other leisure opportunities.”