Written by Prof Dr Alan Simson, Chair of the WRF Governance Committee and the WRF Steering Committee

Broughton Sanctuary – a White Rose Forest Project. Credit: Broughton Hall Estate

The White Rose Forest (WRF) was initially launched in the City of Leeds on Yorkshire Day – 1st August – in 2000. Set up as a West Yorkshire Regeneration Initiative, it aims to encourage economic investment and human health and well-being through environmental improvement, in particular through the planting of trees. The WRF has now expanded to include North Yorkshire, and thus now covers an area of some 9424 km².

A Community Forest is a place with a Forestry Plan, and a partnership to deliver that plan. We therefore work in partnership with local authorities, landowners, businesses and communities to plant millions of trees in our urban centres and countryside that will help manage flood risk, combat climate change, create jobs and provide happier and healthier places for us all to live, love, work in and enjoy. The WRF engages with five specific planting zones, comprising the urban forest, the sub-urban forest, the peri-urban forest, the ex-urban forest (commute areas) and rural woodland.

Broughton Sanctuary Community Tree Planting, Credit: Broughton Hall Estate

Each zone requires a specific design approach, and the ex-urban areas are coming under increased pressure to expand as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the shift of employment and habitation away from town and city centres to ‘greener’ localities.

WRF activity is transdisciplinary and adopts a multi-cultural community approach. Get to know the three prime themes running at the moment:

  • Green Streets: Improving the design of urban streets by reducing traffic, increasing urban green especially street trees and providing better facilities for pedestrians and cyclists;
  • Landscapes for Water: Planting trees in the right places to help slow the flow of surface water into streams and rivers, thus helping to prevent urban flooding downstream;
  • Trees for Learning: Working with schools and community groups to promote the concept of urban forestry, enhancing the process of widening and deepening community involvement and connection to the planning, planting and management of their trees and woodland.

WRF planted approaching 2 million trees to date. Once these trees are established, they will also store significant quantities of carbon and help to deliver the Government’s commitment to achieving net zero carbon emissions in the UK by 2050.

Credit: WTML

The WRF is one of four Community Forests in the north of England working together to create the Northern Forest. The Northern Forest was set up by the UK Government in January 2018 as an environmental counterpart to their Northern Powerhouse Strategy, aiming to plant in excess of 50 million trees by 2032 to significantly increase the canopy cover of the region, and to improve the quality of life there for both people and wildlife. The Government has set up a Nature for Climate fund, which has earmarked £12.1 million (over €14 million) for tree planting this season, led by the Community Forests, and the White Rose Forest has benefitted from received £3.7 million (over €4.29 million) from this fund to plant 218 ha of new woodland this season, which has also enabled WRF to increase staff by three.

A Current White Rose Forest Project: Broughton Sanctuary, Broughton Hall Estate

Broughton Sanctuary at Broughton Hall, an estate some 30 km north-west of the City of Leeds, has become home to the largest tree planting scheme to take place in England this season. WRF has planted 160 ha of resilient woodland between December 2020 and April 2021 – the equivalent of 224 football pitches. Tree species have been selected to meet the objectives of biodiversity and to offer maximum resilience to climate change. The genetic provenance of the native species used were carefully considered prior to planting. The woodland area comprises 57% of high to medium forest; 28% of medium forest to scrub (no more than 20% of which are scrub species) and 15% of open ground. The tree planting marks the beginning of an ambitious nature recovery programme that will transform one third of this 1200 ha estate into a much wilder state, thus increasing biodiversity and wildlife. As well as tree planting, early interventions to kickstart the recovery process will include the natural regeneration of trees, scrub and grasslands, the creation and restoration of wetland habitats and sensitive woodland management.

The project has generated considerable media interest, having been featured in five national newspapers, and has appeared on Channel 4 News in the UK. WRF tried to get the title of the video changed – it isn’t the biggest tree planting operation ever undertaken in England – only the biggest undertaken this season. Guess that’s the media for you!

“We surely have to wake up to the fact that respecting and supporting nature has to be a high priority on the ground now. Our lack of a harmonious existence with the Earth is causing the extinction of species across the globe, as well as a deep lack of belonging for humanity […]. We believe that the change we need to see will come through the union of rewilding our ‘outer nature’, such as the nature recovery and rewilding project at Broughton, along with the rewilding of our ‘inner nature’, which perhaps has been the root cause of deforestation and degradation of nature in England. Our health and future as a species depend on the holistic health of our land […]. We are enormously grateful to everyone who has been involved in our nature recovery project so far. A huge thank you to the White Rose Forest, Defra, Kirklees Council and the Environment Agency.”

Roger Tempest, the custodian of the Broughton Hall Estate, and his partner Paris Ackrill, co-founder of Avalon Wellbeing

Community Tree-Planting at Broughton Sanctuary, Credit: Broughton Hall Estate

“We are committed to tree planting and natural regeneration on an unprecedented scale, and part of that will be a major focus on regenerating land alongside our watercourses. The benefits of doing so are vast, from helping biodiversity recover and absorbing carbon, to slowing the flow of surface water and reducing the risks of floods downstream. The rewilding of Broughton Sanctuary is a fantastic example of this, helping to plant trees where they are needed most and offering vital protection from flooding for communities all along the River Aire”.

Lord Goldsmith, UK Government Forestry Minister

Finally…The successful delivery of this project during a particularly challenging planting season has been achieved through close collaboration between Broughton Sanctuary, the White Rose Forest Delivery Team and the Forestry Commission. The new woodland forms part of WRF’s Landscape for Water Programme, that aims to reduce flood risk for urban areas close to major rivers and waterways in North and West Yorkshire, whilst also improving local water quality, biodiversity and recreational opportunities for local communities. The White Rose Forest is proud to support the Broughton Sanctuary in delivering this hugely important project that will help to protect our environment and the local communities along the River Aire, including Leeds. Broughton Sanctuary joins local authorities across Yorkshire in the leadership they have shown in responding to the climate emergency. Thanks to the support we have received from the Government and businesses, the White Rose Forest has never been in a better position to support this response by working with landowners, communities and fellow professionals across the region to plant trees and to deliver the essential long-term environmental and community benefits they can bring.