NORTHUMBERLAND has been granted approval to plant more than 60,000 trees, making the site at Doddington North Moor the largest tree planting scheme in England for more than 25 years.

The announcement was made the day after Andy Howard, project manager for Doddington, described his long battle to gain approval at a major land use conference at Westminster, organised by Confor.

Mr Howard was delighted to secure the project approval and welcomed the positive impact the planting will bring to the wider rural economy: "Well-designed new forests are fantastic assets for local people and wider society, and hopefully us starting to plant trees at Doddington North and the lessons learnt from the application process will encourage others to take that important step."

Mr Howard added: “I’d like to acknowledge the valuable support of the local population, Anne-Marie Trevelyan MP and the unstinting positive backing from Confor. I'm also grateful to the Natural England and Forestry Commission staff at local level who ultimately found a way for us to some together to find a solution."

The Doddington site, near Wooler, covers 354 hectares, with 268 hectares to be planted, with 42% conifers (the vast majority sitka spruce), 20% native broadleaves and 13% mixed Scots pine and native broadleaf. Of the remaining 25%, 10% is open ground and 15% managed priority habitat.

One of the major battles to get approval was the designation of the planting site as priority habitat. Mr Howard argued that the site had become overgrown with rhododendron, bracken and gorse and said the main danger was doing nothing. "Mother Nature does not work to civil service procedures," he told the conference.

Under the Doddington planting proposal, the amount of priority habitat on the site will increase by almost 70% due to enhanced management.

Mr Howard hopes that the approval of the site at Doddington will pave the way for others to see success with applications for planting:

"Doddington has hopefully broken the mould and can help us start to move away from the ridiculous position where you have to prove that planting trees is not a bad thing," he said. "You have to be prepared to challenge the 'Defra family' and their understanding, you have to plan very carefully, talk to local people at a very early stage and adhere closely to the UK Forest Standard. In the end, Doddington has proved that positive action gets results."