Durham County Council’s cabinet heard this week about the range of measures underway to expand County Durham’s tree cover and contribute to tackling climate change.
The local authority’s cabinet met on Wednesday to hear progress on woodland management and tree planting in the county, included in the council’s Climate Emergency Response Plan (CERP).
The plan outlines over 100 projects that are being carried out to meet the council’s ambitions to reduce carbon emissions from its operations by 80 per cent by 2030 and become a carbon neutral county by 2050.
Managing woodlands and expanding tree cover in the county has been identified as a priority in this plan due to the significant role trees and woodlands have in carbon absorption and increasing biodiversity.
The council owns approximately 1,800 hectares of woodland across 170 sites, making up 10 per cent of the county’s total woodland resource.
Over 300 hectares of this is ancient woodland that has existed since 1600 and has considerable wildlife and historical value which, if lost, is irreplaceable.
Appropriate management of these sites offers a major opportunity for improving the carbon performance of woodlands and their role in tackling climate change. It will also increase amenity value, benefit wildlife conservation, and other ecosystem services that woodlands provide.
Cabinet today also heard about the range of other current woodland initiatives such as Durham Woodland Revival, the Urban Tree Challenge Fund (21,000 trees over 70 locations), the Durham Woodland Creation programme, the North Pennines A68 corridor project, and the proposed North East Community Forest.
The Durham Woodland Creation programme was established in August 2020 following the approval of the council’s CERP last year.
The programme has ambitious aims to plant 10,000 trees in each of the 14 Area Action Partnerships, establishing new woods across the county and maximising opportunities for community engagement in tree planting.
There is also an opportunity to plant 69,000 trees over the next three years, one for every school child in the county, in partnership with County Durham’s Outdoor And Sustainability Education Specialists (OASES) who will work with at least 70 schools.
The programme will involve younger school age children who will collect and plant local seeds to create small tree nurseries that can be planted out at a later date.
Older pupils will also be able to plant trees either in their school grounds or in appropriate locations in their communities across the county.
The North Pennines A68 Corridor project is a joint scheme between the council, the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), the Woodland Trust and the Forestry Commission, which have identified the area to the west of the A68 as having the potential for large scale woodland creation.
This is highlighted in the County Durham Landscape Strategy and the council and partners are working with private landowners to advise on woodland creation schemes and management plans.
Thousands of trees are also set to be planted across the region as part of the proposed North East Community Forest programme, where the council has joined other North East local authorities (Newcastle, South Tyneside, North Tyneside, Gateshead, and Sunderland) to submit an expression of interest to England’s Community Forests.
If successful, funding will be available for a five-year programme of tree establishment with the first trees to be planted over the coming winter.
Cllr Brian Stephens, cabinet member for neighbourhoods and local partnerships, said: “Since declaring a climate emergency in 2019, we have worked quickly to establish our CERP and identify priority actions that will help meet our ambitious targets to reduce carbon emissions.
“Trees and woodlands are essential in tackling climate change. They play a significant role in carbon absorption, increasing biodiversity and wildlife conservation, contributing to ecosystem services, as well as significantly benefitting our health and wellbeing.
“The range of schemes we are currently delivering will help expand tree cover across the county and increase the climate benefits of woodlands.”