The Development of the National Forest: the transformative agency of trees in the English Midlands
AuthorsKnight, Mark Adam
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AbstractThis thesis argues that the creation of the north-midland National Forest in Britain is one of the most ambitious and successful large-scale woodland regeneration projects in the nation’s history and therefore critical historical analysis of its development is important for informing the planning and management of future regional reforestation schemes. It demonstrates how a concept for a large-scale forest modelled upon the New Forest and developed by the Countryside Commission became the inspiration for a new forest in lowland England, close to major conurbations, that would provide crucial new social and economic opportunities through woodland industries, leisure and tourism. The thesis provides the first full comprehensive and authoritative analysis of the development of the National Forest during its first few decades in regional and national context, demonstrating its importance for the future of forestry and the pivotal role of major community afforestation schemes in the adaption to- and mitigation of- climate change. Researched and written by a community environmental and heritage activist with close personal knowledge of the formation of the National Forest, it utilises archival, institutional and media sources and draws upon interviews with key players in the development of the Forest. The thesis provides essential original contributions to knowledge and informs understanding of current and future impacts of afforestation and national environmental policies. Through an examination of the vital role played in the development of multi-purpose forestry and ecology infrastructure, it demonstrates the dramatic impact of extensive afforestation strategies. The thesis shows how and why the National Forest has had a major regional economic, social and environmental impact, in an area that had experienced long-term fundamental economic and environmental problems, transforming those parts of North West Leicestershire, South Derbyshire and East Staffordshire into the first English National Forest. The region had previously relied heavily on the industries of coal mining and clay extraction for employment, but by the late 1980s these were in steep decline, leaving a legacy of mounting unemployment, slag heaps and despoiled landscapes, with a mere 1 per cent tree cover in the worst affected areas. The National Forest plan that emerged, based upon the Needwood-Charnwood bid, succeeded because it was founded upon partnership working from the outset, had high public support and provided the strongest economic, social and ecological benefits. The cultural power and value of trees was recognised and harnessed through connecting the remnant ancient forests of Needwood and Charnwood, lending authenticity and credence. However, the thesis demonstrates how the development of this multi-purpose forest providing environmental regeneration through the creation of a new economic base was not an inevitable outcome of the original plans but only emerged after sometimes tense negotiations involving all stakeholders across the region, especially local and national government bodies, landowners, environmental associations, community organisations and the general public. In adapting to shifting political and economic circumstances, the National Forest facilitated economic and social regeneration and had a major environmental and ecological impact upon the north Midland countryside and nearby urban areas. The importance of tree planting and the role of trees in providing social and health benefits is also revealed and the thesis argues that urban forestry and the integration of towns and cities with tree places is of prime importance for future similar projects. The thesis maintains that by demonstrating the role of partnership working, social engagement and sustained public consultation in the creation of the Forest, a critical historical analysis of its development illustrates how it provides a valuable model for future multi-purpose afforestation projects. The role of the National Forest Company, for example, and its close partnerships with local and broader communities, can inform other woodland-based environmental regeneration schemes such as the Northern Forest and the Welsh National Forest. Critical examination of the National Forest’s history is indispensable for our understanding of woodland conservation and development and demonstrates how such future tree-based projects can provide sustainable environmental and economic regeneration and therefore help to mitigate and adapt to the realities of climate change.
CitationKnight, M.A.(2021)The development of the National Forest: the transformative agency of trees in the English Midlands. Ph.D. thesis. University of Derby.
PublisherUniversity of Derby
TypeThesis or dissertation
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