Twenty-five years ago, the Midlands villages of Moira, Donisthorpe and Overseal overlooked a gruesome landscape. The communities were surrounded by opencast mines, old clay quarries, spoil heaps, derelict coal workings, polluted waterways and all the other ecological wreckage of heavy industry.
The air smelt and tasted unpleasant and the land was poisoned. There were next to no trees, not many jobs and little wildlife. Following the closure of the pits, people were deserting the area for Midlands cities such as Birmingham, Derby and Leicester. The future looked bleak.
Today, a pastoral renaissance is taking place. Around dozens of former mining and industrial communities, in what was the broken heart of the old Midlands coalfield, a vast, splendid forest of native oak, ash and birch trees is emerging, attracting cyclists, walkers, birdwatchers, canoeists, campers and horse-riders.
Britain’s trees have come under increasing attack from exotic diseases, and the grants for planting woodland are drying up, so the 200 sq miles of the National Forest come as a welcome good news story. The new woodland in the Midlands is proving that large-scale tree planting is not just good value for money, but can also have immense social, economic and ecological benefits.
In this one corner of the Midlands, more than 8.5m trees have been planted in 25 years, hundreds of miles of footpath have been created and 500 abandoned industrial sites have been transformed. The landscape and ecology of semi-derelict Britain has been revived and rewilded with trees!
“I came here from Staffordshire 62 years ago,” says Graham Knight, a former coalface engineer who lives near Moira and now works for a retraining charity. “It was clay pits, quarries, coal mines, chimneys, sewer pipes, and kilns then. It was very unhealthy, pretty grim. It was a hard life and it toughened people up. The area went into steep decline when the industry closed and almost everything disappeared. It has changed from a wasteland to an environment that we envied.
“People love trees. They like to see forests and woods. In those days you would go to a place like this for holidays. People are moving in and communities are growing.”
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