South Derbyshire is at the heart of the National Forest, a unique national initiative to create a new forest in what was one of the least wooded areas of the country. Over the last 25 years, almost 9 million trees have been planted, creating an attractive environment and quality of life. As Britain’s boldest environmental project, this is a ‘forest in the making’ where part of the nation’s future heritage is being created.
The Forest is transforming 500 square kilometres of the Midlands including parts of Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Staffordshire. The area encompasses a variety of landscapes including the ancient forests of Needwood and Charnwood and parts of the industrialised Midlands Coalfield and Trent Valley. The aim of the National Forest Company is to create a mosaic of land uses and activities, framed by 33% woodland cover, that will enhance the environment and economy of the area and the quality of life for residents.
Around one third of the National Forest is within South Derbyshire District, with the Forest area encompassing about half of the District. The Forest is a driver for physical change in the southern part of the District, addressing the physical legacy of past industries – reclaiming land and creating an attractive environment. To date woodland cover has increased from 6% to more than 20% of the area, and visitor facilities, both new and improved, and public access to the countryside have grown rapidly.
The Forest is creating opportunities for the growth and development of small and medium-sized businesses, facilitating farm diversification and supporting new sources of income and employment particularly in rural areas. As the Forest develops, the potential for new business and employment creation is being felt most directly in the visitor and woodland economies. It is also benefitting the sustainability of rural services and the vitality of town centres arising from increased visitor usage.
Opportunities in the woodland economy range from nurseries, timber production and forestry contracting through to the processing of wood products and the use of wood fuel for heat and power generation. Meanwhile tourism and leisure opportunities are developing far quicker than anticipated, including visitor attractions, overnight accommodation (of all types), heritage and wildlife sites, events and festivals, and food and drink outlets. The National Forest now attracts over 9 million visitors each year, including more than 700,000 staying visitors. The economic impact of the Forest’s visitor economy is estimated to exceed £470 million per annum.