Destroyed Spodden Valley woodland where Countryside Properties wanted to build
Speaking yesterday, Mr Knight said that too many people thought visiting a forest automatically meant a visit to the countryside.
The Minister pointed as an example to north west England’s Red Rose Forest where woodland is creating an attractive green setting within an urban environment.
He said: "It's important for everyone to know that you don't need to travel miles into the heart of England's countryside to enjoy our woodlands and green spaces. Some of our most cherished woodlands are on the doorsteps of cities and large towns,".
The Red Rose Forest spans 292 square miles across Greater Manchester and has a population of 1.5 million people living within its boundaries.
In addition, the Newlands project is bringing community woodland to previously derelict, underused or neglected land across Greater Manchester.
Mr Knight said the Forestry Commission's Active Woods campaign, a national drive to promote the range of health and fitness opportunities offered by Britain's woodlands, included hundreds of events across the UK.
"We too often think of our health as being about seeing health professionals and taking medicines. It's easy to lose sight of the fact that much of our health and well-being depends on our environment and taking regular exercise - and it's important to make that exercise enjoyable, particularly for children.
"Getting active in our woodlands is a great way to achieve this, and I applaud the Forestry Commission on the work they are doing to encourage more people to get active in the woods - no matter where they live."
Research indicates that exercising in woods and green spaces reduces stress levels, boosts mental well-being, and can speed recovery from illness.
Save Spodden Valley campaign co-ordinator Jason Addy gives a positive example of the benefits of community urban woodlands:
Documents obtained under Freedom of Information legislation showed the speed at which North-West Forestry Commission (FC) officers acted to save woodland in the Spodden Valley of Rochdale in 2004:
On the weekend of 14th/15th May 2004 contractors working for property speculators began the destruction of about 3 acres of woodland surrounding the former Turner Brothers Asbestos factory. More unauthorised felling was planned.
The files show that a F.C. officer acted swiftly under the Forestry Act to prevent more unlawful tree felling. Published documents show that following an email sent by local residents on Sunday 15th May 2004, the Forestry Commission were in action by Monday morning (16th May).
Felling more than 5 cubic metres of woodland, with or without Tree Preservation Orders (TPO) can be a criminal offence. Unfortunately, far too often, unscrupulous developers attempt ‘smash and grab’ land raids by destroying woodland at weekends when policing is more difficult.
6 months after hundreds of trees were cleared in the Spodden Valley, plans were submitted to build on the former woodlands and the former asbestos factory site. The planning consortium was headed by Countryside Properties (Northern) Ltd, together with local company MMC Developments Ltd and a secretive offshore trust company called Rathbone Jersey Ltd.
16 months after being filed, the whole planning application remains on HOLD and has caused considerable controversy:
As reported on Rochdale Online and Indymedia:
Plans for ‘Plot 5’ – detached houses for Woodlands Rd were dropped in early 2005. Plot ‘14’- where mature woodland was felled south of the former asbestos factory still remains firmly on hold.
The areas surrounding the old Turner Brothers factory are a combination of Green Belt, Greenspace Corridor and Area of Ecological Importance. North of the site is the Healey Dell Nature reserve.
Echoing the sentiments made by Jim Knight, the Forestry Minister, calls have been made for land within the Spodden Valley to be a safe, ‘Green Gateway’ for all the communities of Rochdale to have access to amenity woodland and access to the Pennine Moors.
The pathway conservation work just completed at Spotland Bridge as reported at:
...is a positive example of what can be achieved with community participation, imagination and targeted grant monies.
Currently, woodland in Rochdale amounts to less than half the national average. To help remedy this, Rochdale M.B.C. has a dedicated officer who works with neighbouring local authorities to ensure that a ‘Pennine Edge Forest’ can flourish in the years to come.