Millenium: Nation's green heart to heal the scars of industrial past

A huge forest in the Midlands is to get a heart, with a pounds 13m Disc overy Centre, country park and other attractions helped by lottery money. Environment Correspondent Nicholas Schoon examines one of the largest derelict land reclamation projects in Britain.
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The Independent Online
Unnoticed and largely unknown, a vast forest the size of a county is starting to take shape in countryside scarred by mining and quarrying north of Birmingham. At the moment it consists of hundreds of thousands of saplings.

Yesterday this ambitious but unrecognised project got its best chance to date to acquire an identity, with the announcement that pounds 6.2m of lottery money from the Millennium Commission would be injected into its heart.

It was one of 71 schemes receiving pounds 221m in the final round of grants from the commission, all of them due to be completed and open to the public by the end of 2000. Northern Ireland received more money per person than other region of the UK.

The money will go towards a forest park eventually covering 500 acres of derelict land, landscaped into the shape of a gigantic handprint, and a new National Forest Discovery Centre. There visitors will see virtually reality displays - computer generated, three-dimensional illusions showing what the mature forest will look like in 20 years time. They will learn about the ecology and history of woodlands in Britain and the world, and how their timber and other products can be sustainably exploited.

Plans for the forest were first announced by Conservative Government more than eight years ago. Its designated area, covering nearly 200 square miles, sprawls across parts of Staffordshire, Derbyshire and Leicestershire.

The landscape has been ripped open by clay and gravel extraction and opencast coal mining. The local economy has also been hit hard by the closure of all of its deep mines, and this has contributed to the widespread dereliction of the landscape. The new country park and discovery centre will be sited on the remains of Rawdon Colliery, the last of Leicestershire's mines to close.

The project is backed by English Partnerships, the Government's land regeneration arm, the Forestry Commission, the Rural Development Commission and local councils. With yesterday's announcement, all but pounds 1m of the total pounds 13m needed has now been identified, with the rest to be raised by appeal.