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More than 28,000 trees to be planted on estate hit by summer wildfire

More than 28,000 trees will be planted at Smithills, near Bolton, as the site recovers from last year’s wildfires (Phil Formby/WTML/PA)
More than 28,000 trees will be planted at Smithills, near Bolton, as the site recovers from last year’s wildfires (Phil Formby/WTML/PA)

More than 28,000 trees will be planted this year at an estate hit by a devastating wildfire and drought last year, the Woodland Trust said.

The thousands of saplings going in at Smithills Estate, near Bolton, are part of the Northern Forest project to plant 50 million trees along the M62 corridor between the cities of Bradford, Leeds, Manchester and Liverpool.

By the end of March, almost 600,000 trees will have been planted across locations, from existing woodland sites and former farmland to schools and community grounds, as part of the first year of the Northern Forest, the Trust said.

It is hoped the £500 million project, with £5.7 million Government funding to help kickstart it, will accelerate the creation of new woodland, support management of existing woods, provide habitat for wildlife and green spaces for people in the region.

The Woodland Trust and Community Forest Trust estimates the new forest, spanning more than 120 miles across northern England, will generate more than £2 billion for the economy.

At Smithills, most of the new trees will be planted around the new Walker Fold car park, while 6,000 will be going in on marginal land of low agricultural value and moorland fringe areas of the site.

The new planting comes after 5,500 trees were planted in the autumn to replace those lost in the Winter Hill blaze which ripped through moorland and trees last summer.

Winter Hill moorland fire
Fire hit Winter Hill near Bolton last summer (Danny Lawson/PA)

A third of the site was damaged with dozens of species such as lapwing and common lizards pushed out or burned, while moorland, upland grassland and even parts of the woodland were hit in the wildfire.

The 28,600 trees will be planted over the next two weeks by a mixture of local residents and community groups.

The recovery is being aided with £4 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund which was partly given to the Woodland Trust to purchase the final third of the 1,700 acre site.

Made up of open countryside, streams and woodland, Smithills is the largest site owned by the Woodland Trust which aims to restore the landscape by planting trees to connect current fragmented habitats and boost wildlife.

In March 2018, the first tree planted at Smithills was also the first tree of the Northern Forest project.

Russell Hedley, who is based at Smithills for the Woodland Trust, said: “We are now looking to the future of our project following the huge fires and drought of last year.

“We are delighted to say that the 5,500 trees that we planted last autumn to replace those lost in the blaze have taken well and the site itself is starting to show the earliest signs of recovery.”

“The idea about planting the new trees around the new Walker Fold Gateway car park is that they will lower the flood risk in the lower part of the estate and increase the health of the local ecosystem.

“This will benefit people not only living on the estate but down into the town of Bolton as well.

“Without areas of healthy wildlife the simple things like the food we eat, water we drink and even the air we breathe is put at risk.”