Woodland reclaims old coalfields for rare species


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A project to transform a 200 square mile patch of disused coalfields in the Midlands into woodland has enabled rare species of animal that were dying out in Britain to thrive again.

Adders, lapwings and otters are among a number that are starting to flourish again in parts of the National Forest that were previously derelict.

The forest is Britain's largest ongoing environmental project and aims to increase the woodland cover of the area from an initial six per cent to more than 33 per cent. So far, almost seven million trees have been planted, covering about 16 per cent of the land.

This week a set of sculptures by the wood artist David Nash will be unveiled across the forest.

Yesterday Nash called on the Government to promote similar schemes elsewhere and said that "not nearly enough" was being done to combat climate change.

He said: "If we are as greedy as we are in terms of paper usage and cars then we've got to do more to look at the environment. Politicians at a local and national level must do more to promote these types of projects.

"Millions of trees have been planted around the National Forest, which will help this area, but the tree planting is something that has to be replicated all over the country if it is to have a serious effect."

The idea behind the National Forest, which covers parts of Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Staffordshire, was to turn around one of the country's least wooded areas, joining up two ancient woodlands that flank the region. Large parts of the area were defunct coalfields.

Landowners and communities are encouraged to take part in the scheme and are given grants that get higher the more environmental projects they operate.

All the woodland sites are linked to allow the maximum amount of movement for wildlife and 90 per cent of the forest is accessible to the public. Wetlands, grasslands and hedgerows are also being encouraged.

But one of the biggest bonuses has been the return of the wildlife. Viv Astling, the former chairman of the National Forest Company, said: "It's a great benefit to see the thriving wildlife and the return of species which were very rare in this country, to the point of them being endangered. We recently looked at doing something with a derelict barn near one of David's sculptures and found that barn owls had nested in it, which was a wonderful sight and really quite extraordinary.

"We've seen the ruddy darter dragonfly, bats, water voles and the black poplar tree, all of which nearly disappeared from the landscape but which are being encouraged to thrive again.

"And we've got 40,000 kids involved in the project so they are learning at a very young age about environment matters and they have this sort of global empathy.

"One of the most exciting things about the whole project is that we won't be around to see it in its full glory. It will be handed down from generation to generation and in 100 years or so it will be completely established. How often in life can you say you've helped change 200 square miles of the country?

"Already the landscape is changing in quite a dramatic way. You can see that from the M1 motorway with the trees that are springing up."

Among the schemes was a successful project, involving Leicestershire county council, to encourage adders back into the area.

A "hibernation unit" was created using redundant dry stone walls, and similar projects will be repeated over the next few years to encourage the snake's population growth.

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