A CONCEPT of a National Forest running the length and breadth of Wales was unveiled yesterday by First Minister Mark Drakeford.
Backed by £5 million in this year’s Budget, the National Forest will create areas of new woodland and help to restore and maintain some of Wales’ unique and irreplaceable ancient woodlands.
Mr Drakeford commented on the plans: “We want to work with farmers, voluntary organisations, councils, environmental experts and local communities to translate our ambitions into immediate action and a shared long-term commitment.
“There is no escaping the huge environmental challenges the world is facing – the February floods have brought that home to us in Wales in the most devastating way.
“We have a responsibility to future generations to protect nature from the dangers of our changing climate but a healthy natural environment will also offer protection to our communities from the dangers we ourselves face.
“In planting, growing and protecting the right network of trees we can increase our resilience to flooding.
“Trees improve air quality, they remove harmful greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, they provide material for construction, they regenerate soil for food, they clean the water in our rivers and they provide a home to all the life that finds shelter in their canopy.
“We have described our ambition for a National Forest that extends the length and breadth of Wales.
“As well as significantly increasing our support for tree planting immediately, we will also be undertaking extensive engagement so this can be a collective effort with government, business and communities all working towards a shared goal.”
And a further £10 million of Glastir Woodland creation and restoration funding will be available to increase tree planting across Wales.
The National Forest will be a connected ecological network running throughout Wales, which will play an important role in protecting nature and addressing biodiversity loss.
It was developed over years through collaboration between government, businesses, landowners and communities.
The First Minister and Environment Minister Lesley Griffiths will taking part in tree planting at the Coed Cadw wood at Gnoll Country Park in Neath, while Hannah Blythyn, Deputy Minister for Housing and Local Government, will be tree-planting at Coed Y Felin, near Mold.
Ms Blythyn said:”Our forests play a vital role in sustaining both our wildlife and our communities.
“By investing in community woodlands like Coed Y Felin as part of the National Forest, we can create new opportunities for people to experience nature in their own communities as part of our wider efforts to reform and improve access.
“The National Forest will be supported by £5 million of new funding – this includes £1.5 million to support community woodlands.
“A further £10 million of funding for Glastir woodland creation and restoration is being announced today – applications for funding open from March 16 and will go towards increasing tree planting across Wales.”
The forest is hoped to also help to boost tourism in Wales, drawing inspiration from the development of the Wales Coast Path.
The Wales Coast Path stretches the entire 870 miles of rugged Welsh coastline, attracting millions of visitors a year.
Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs Lesley Griffiths, added: “The National Forest will provide an important means of strengthening the ecological networks which sustain our ancient woodlands and other vital habitats for wildlife.
“Creating extensive new networks of woodlands is a challenging and long-term ambition, however, the idea is gathering momentum, with many organisations and communities across Wales already getting involved.
“Accelerating the rate of tree planting in Wales requires a whole range of measures and the significant increase in Glastir funding announced today is a major step forward.
“I know Welsh businesses, communities and, particularly, our farmers and foresters, will want to help create the National Forest.
“In the coming year we will be engaging widely so we are able to design the program in a way which allows everyone to make their contribution.”