A LONG term project to plant millions of new trees in Craven has been supported by councillors.

However, even if the target of 18 million trees by 2050 is reached, it will still only mean Craven achieving the national average for tree cover as it stands today, and not as it will be in 30 years time, heard the meeting of Craven District Council.

If the target is reached, it is likely to be one of the largest percentage increases of tree cover across West and North Yorkshire, but will need the cooperation of landowners and receive funding.

Tree cover in Craven is currently 5.4 per cent, the lowest in West and North Yorkshire, and far below the UK national average of 13 per cent. Leeds has the highest with 17.2, while many places have 12 per cent.

Councillors at the Policy Committee meeting on Tuesday agreed to set the ambitious target of creating 3,074 hectares of new woodland by 2030 and 8, 929 hectares by 2050.

To raise it to 19 per cent, a, target suggested by the White Rose Forest, one of ten community forests across England, it would mean an additional 32 million trees and almost four times the current number of trees in Craven.

A report to the committee said: “This would be a ‘huge undertaking’ to find sufficient land, resources and capacity to bring Craven to the forecasted North and West Yorkshire tree cover.

“ It is therefore proposed that the ambition for Craven should be to achieve a tree cover of 13 per cent by 2050. This still equates to an additional 17.9 per cent increase across North and West Yorkshire.Therefore, to achieve the ambition of 13 per cent tree cover by 2050 is a very challenging target. “

Councillor Carl Lis, lead member for the environment, said it was a very ambitious target. “We are showing our intent. This is a very long term project,” he said.

Council leader, Cllr Richard Foster, said the problem in Craven was the amount of ‘blanket bog’.

He said: “If we went to Sheffield and say how much blanket bog have you got, we’d beat it hands down. You can’t have trees and blanket bog.”

There will now be a consultation with both landowners, tenants and other stakeholders after which the public will be asked to share their views.

In 2019, Craven District Council declared a climate emergency and although initiatives to reduce the use of carbon energy and produce renewable energy form a major part of its climate emergency strategy, a ‘significant and necessary’ component is the ‘drawdown of carbon from the atmosphere’ , achieved by the planting of trees.

In recent years, the Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust has planted 1.5m trees in the Dales and Nidderdale, Elslack Estate planted 63,000 trees in 2017 and over the last year, some 207,000 trees have been planted at the Broughton estate. The scheme, which received the support of the Forestry Commission and the Environment Agency, has been described as the largest tree planting scheme so far in England.

Last year, the district council planted 7,000 trees on its own land, including Aireville Park, and ongoing now is the Wild Ingleborough project, the rewilding of 1,150 hectares with low intensity grazing and the eventual planting of 30,000 trees.

There are however ‘significant barriers’ to increasing woodland coverage, said the report to committee. “In particular, the willingness of landowners to make land available, the complexity of funding arrangements, and increasingly, there are problems with the supply of saplings and also capacity within the industry to plant enough trees to meet national targets.”

After the meeting, Cllr Lis added: “It’s a very ambitious project but we’re committed to boosting woodland coverage to benefit all in the years to come.

“We have already planted 7,000 trees in Aireville Park but we’re showing our intent as we move forward and become part of the new unitary authority.”