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Grow With Wyre Forestry apprentices, Fahra Collins & Andy Jones, courtesy Forestry Commission / Isobel Cameron

Urban forestry and developing a green economy

How could a city region known for creative industries, broadcasting, professional services and adventures in the knowledge economy connect with the world of chainsaws, fleece jackets, kevlar trousers and mobile chipping machines?

It can. In reality there are plenty of ‘woody’ jobs already across the city region and many more could be created if we invested in this genuine ‘green growth’ area of industry.

At the last count, woodlands and forestry supported 15,500 jobs in the Manchester city region across areas such as the processing of forest products, tree-related tourism and professional forestry related services.

That’s just ‘jobs from trees’. If you extend the economic impact to what could be described as our ‘green infrastructure’, in other words the green spaces, street trees, parks and smaller woodland areas that knit our urban fabric together and improve our quality of life, then you can add a further 15,000 jobs and a £470m contribution of Gross Value Added (GVA) per year to the city region’s economy.

Amidst talk of the promise of a ‘green economy’ the fact is that this sector – forestry – could provide many more jobs through well targeted support and investment for biomass, the development of new green infrastructure, further tourism and through a major drive on skills in arboricultural services, landscaping and woodland management, particularly through the supply chains for forestry’s major players in neighbouring areas such as Yorkshire, Lancashire and Cumbria.

Green jobs

This last area - skills development - is a critical area of opportunity according to many larger players in the sector. In both rural and urban areas there are genuine opportunities in servicing the growing and buoyant timber, woodfuel and forestry-related markets, including tourism, and yet there is a reported and chronic skills shortages in this sector, which is being felt within a two to three hour drive time of the city region.

Intriguingly in spite of our city region’s relatively low standing resource of timber, we still boast the largest forestry sector in the North West of England; even more than Cumbria.

Across Greater Manchester we already have a track record in the forestry and timber sector, with12,700 jobs in processing and manufacturing, 1,700 jobs in recreation or tourism and 1,100 jobs in professional and supporting forestry services. Intriguingly in spite of our city region’s relatively low standing resource of timber, we still boast the largest forestry sector in the North West of England; even more than Cumbria.

What do these jobs look like in reality? A good example would the Greater Manchester Tree Station. Set up in 2008 it was one of the first tree stations to be established in the UK.

Based in West Gorton, the TreeStation team integrates tree work, wood products and biomass production, to provide an appropriate local infrastructure on a viable scale. As an urban tree station, it acts as a hub for a broad range of wood-related activities, such as woodland management operations, arboriculture and consultancy.

The Manchester city region has knowledge and skills to deploy in this area too. We have high end research at Greater Manchester’s universities covering areas such as urban trees, green infrastructure or biomass but also we have a strong practical skills offer in the Manchester College, with work-based Horticulture Diplomas, an apprenticeship in Local Environmental Services and a Landscaping course.

Demand for this knowledge and skills base is not waning, but it may require us to make a connection with neighbouring cities and counties which were once part of the North West ‘region’. Forestry has the power to connect people, resources and skills across a number of Northern Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) areas; specifically there is a woodland resource in the North of England which requires management and felling - particularly as two new diseases threaten species such as larch and ash - and yet there is a chronic shortage of well-equipped and trained people to carry out this work. In southern areas there are areas of need and unemployment where some of these skills could be fostered and a workforce created to satisfy this urgent and growing need for labour.

Boosting demand

There is a singular opportunity to partner with neighbouring LEP areas to the North which will accelerate as tree diseases such as Phytophthora ramorum and Chalara fraxinea (Ash Die Back) take hold and require widespread felling of trees and subsequent replanting, but there is also an opportunity to boost the demand for forest products, which will bring with it a wider range of holistic benefits.

Forestry can boast a roster of products that lock-in carbon and have the potential to be part of a consolidated strategy on climate change mitigation.

As the whole of the UK looks to satisfy the demand for new homes and reduce its carbon footprint, forestry can boast a roster of products that lock-in carbon and have the potential to be part of a consolidated strategy on climate change mitigation.

Bringing woodlands into management could create green jobs and businesses and bring an additional two million tonnes of wood per annum to energy markets in England, this fuel could provide 4.4TWh of heat, sufficient to supply 800 hospitals, or 3,000 schools or 250,000 homes.

With a low carbon economy as key strategic challenge and with the new Low Carbon Hub leading strategic programmes across Greater Manchester there is a clear opportunity to bring woodland management, planting and woodfuel development together as a single strand of profitable activity. In the urban fringe of Greater Manchester, under managed woodlands also offer the  potential to provide renewable heat energy across the city region.

There are 117,100 hectares of woodland across the Northwest (8.3% of land area), 50% of which is currently under-managed. This represents a genuine opportunity to realise sustainable timber and fuel yield create long-term jobs. If Greater Manchester’s under managed trees and woodlands were brought into management they would generate, approximately, enough wood fuel for ten hospitals, or 37 schools, or 3,000 homes.

This is one reason why forestry, unlike many other sectors, can be a living exemplar of ‘decoupling’ carbon emissions and economic prosperity and, through skills-based institutions like Manchester College or our universities, be part of a wider push on green skills and job opportunities.

And if we don’t reach for the chainsaw...

Of course not all of forestry’s offer involves chopping trees down and processing them into timber, board or paper products. The other ‘offer’ from trees comes in the form of the ‘green amongst the grey’; the green infrastructure mentioned above.

So a key question then is how do we exploit the economic potential of that aspect of forestry, too?

The first realisation is that beyond the centre of the city region, ours is a much greener conurbation than you might think. When the ill-informed commentator bemoans Manchester’s lack of parks they should do two things: first of all remember that the steam-fueled Victorians built our city literally in a generation and gave little thought to green space (or planning for that matter); secondly they should look just beyond the inner ring road and see an impressive number of large-scale green areas, from very large parks and gardens even to the odd National Nature Reserve.

Beyond the centre of the city region, ours is a much greener conurbation than you might think.

In total over 60% of Greater Manchester is green (or blue) infrastructure (GI) in the form of woodland, street trees, parks and green areas.  This green space has a direct economic impact in terms of management, planting and felling jobs but it indirectly contributes in a number of specific ways.

First of all increases our urban resilience both to flooding and to rising temperatures through climate change; it’s been estimated that 2011’s flooding events cost UK plc over £1bn, a risk that can be mitigated as planting trees helps to counter the risk of flooding. Through shading and evapotranspiration trees can keep things cool, too; one study revealed that a 10% increase in city centre tree cover would be enough to counteract expected levels of mid-century climate change temperature rises.

More green space or GI can reduce the costs of ill health too, through increased activity and reduced air pollution. GI has even been proven to boost mental wellbeing and reduce anti-social behaviour.

Finally these trees and green spaces are important for our brand. They have a part to play in creating the setting for new investment in Greater Manchester’s key growth zones such as Airport City and a programme of greening for our Town Centres would also improve prospects for recovery. According to recent studies if you invest £1 in green infrastructure £2.30 of GVA is created directly, with a further £6.90 of wider economic benefits.

A greener city is good for business.

A greener city is good for business. Greater Manchester is the most popular city destination outside London and Edinburgh, with a buoyant visitor economy which is highly dependent on a quality environment. The £5.8 billion GVA, 76,965 jobs and 8.8 million annual visitors that tourism represents in Greater Manchester are underpinned by continued efforts to make our city greener and to bolster our city brand.

A real world example would be the increased footfall boasted by Manchester’s Dig the City garden city festival, which had another successful run in 2013. King Street, home to the Dig the City horticulture market, had an increase in footfall by a staggering 150pc on the opening Saturday while Selfridges reported a fifth more shoppers. It generated more than £1m of PR coverage for Manchester city centre too.

Little wonder that funding regimes at an EU level are now being asked to consider GI. In May 2013 the EU adopted a Green Infrastructure Strategy and is now in the process of drawing up guidance to show how green infrastructure can be integrated into the implementation of EU Funding from 2014 to 2020.

The best time to plant a tree?

... was 20 years ago, but failing that we could start now. There are a number of initiatives and organisations that together have already been leading on our urban forestry agenda and with increased support they could ramp up their work. Greater Manchester has the Red Rose Forest and Pennine Edge Forest initiatives for example.

Red Rose Forest was established in 1991 to create new areas of woodland, improve existing green spaces and encourage people to visit their local park, woodland, nature reserve or community garden. The Pennine Edge Forest was launched in 2003 to stimulate investment in the landscape through trees and woodlands for people and places.

The combined teams have seen over £60m invested in the forests and have done a great deal to work with forestry businesses and landowners to create new jobs and business opportunities.

Beyond our two community forests there is the Manchester Garden city project, a new ‘gardner in residence’ for the city centre courtesy of the National Trust and the work of local authorities themselves. There is much being done but much more to be done.

Beyond direct employment, woodlands and forestry provides a powerful setting for economic growth, and new woodland planting offers a green infrastructure that provides an attractive setting for investment, resilience against flooding, and a better quality of life; it literally does help to boost our city brand.

Greenleaf Greater Manchester_SM.pdf [PDF, 2.59Mb]