More trees for England's woods

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THE FORESTS and woodlands of England are to be substantially expanded, with the rate of tree planting likely to double over the next five years, the Government promised yesterday.

The plan will bring jobs to the countryside, new life to derelict land, opportunities for leisure and tourism and safe havens for wildlife, said Elliot Morley, the Agriculture minister, launching the England Forestry Strategy.

The new programme, which will be followed by separate strategies for Wales and Scotland, is believed to be the first practical result of the Government's devolution proposals, and the first major forward-looking policy to deal with England alone.

It reverses the Conservatives' aim of getting the state out of forestry ownership, which resulted in large sell-offs of the Forestry Commission's extensive woodlands in theEighties and early Nineties.

The Chancellor, Gordon Brown, announced in the summer that the sell-offs to private owners were being ended, and yesterday's announcement is intended to enshrine a new partnership between the public and private sectors to promote forests' use and growth.Tree cover in England, at 7 per cent of surface area, is one of the smallest proportions in Europe.

The strategy's main thrust is that England's forests will be officially recognised as having multiple purposes, rather than just be maintained as tree farms of the type that blighted much of the post-war landscape with serried ranks of dark conifers.

"The days of single-use forestry, with acres and acres of Sitka spruce, are over," Mr Morley said. "Woods and forests boast the most diverse range of benefits, for both people and wildlife, of any land use, but we have not yet begun to realise their potential fully. To achieve this, foresters are, for the first time, looking outwards ... and saying to others, `look how forestry can help you'."

Other government departments would be brought in alongside the Ministry of Agriculture and might provide an extra pounds 40m to add to the Forestry Commission's pounds 40m annual budget.