The Mersey Forest – transforming a post-industrial landscape

Authors and Affiliations: 

Susannah Gill, The Mersey Forest

Clare Olver, The Mersey Forest

Paul Nolan, The Mersey Forest


The English Community Forest Programme is a visionary idea, to bring forestry ‘down the hill’ from rural upland plantations and to use it as a mechanism for regeneration in the lowland urban fringe. This challenges the perceived image of “forest” as an area of dense, closely grown trees stretching as far as the eye can see to a network of woodlands cherished by local communities.

In 1991, twelve Community Forests were set up in England. Two were in the North West: Red Rose Forest covering Greater Manchester; and The Mersey Forest covering Merseyside and North Cheshire.

The forests shared four objectives are:

  • Economic regeneration (improving the image of the urban fringe in a post-industrial landscape)
  • Economic development (employment and rural diversification)
  • Social welfare (through education, health and recreation opportunities)
  • Environmental improvements (remediation of  derelict land, creating new habitat, tackling climate change)

In the early days, there was award winning large-scale reclamation of derelict land around Liverpool. Over the years targeted interventions have further reduced the stock of derelict land considerably. Around 3,000ha of new woodland have been created and woodland cover has doubled from 4% to 8%. Alongside trees and woodlands, a mixture of other habitats has been created.

In North West England, we remain ambitious and there is a call to increase tree planting radically and to double woodland cover by 2050 with a revitalised woodland culture fit for the 21st century. This needs to be undertaken in line with the UK Forestry Standard and national, regional and local landscape character assessments ensuring that important and valued landscapes are maintained.

Urban tree planting is an increasingly important aspect. Here there is significant scope for tree planting in streets, road verges, parks, school grounds, residential gardens, and smaller parcels of land. Urban trees are vitally important, as they bring The Mersey Forest literally to people’s doorsteps, and provide a huge range of benefits.

The woodlands planted in the early years are now being thinned, creating opportunities to link to new programmes around biomass and woodfuel and recreation.

Has the approached worked? 95% of people surveyed support having a Community Forest in their area and 67% of residents in The Mersey Forest say that it has led to a positive change in their environment.