The Mersey Forest

Case Study Information
The Mersey Forest is a growing network of trees and woodlands covering 1,370 square km of Merseyside and North Cheshire, which is home to 1.7 million people.
North Cheshire and Merseyside
Habitat types (UK NEA habitats): 
Semi-natural grasslands
Enclosed farmland
Freshwater, wetlands and floodplains
Coastal margins
Landscape context: 

As a result of the project tree and woodland planting and management is transforming a largely post-industrial landscape into one that can be used as a springboard for wider social, environmental and economic regeneration.

Partners, organisations and stakeholders involved: 

The work of The Mersey Forest team and partners is directed by The Mersey Forest Plan, a long term strategic guide embedded within national planning policy.

The Mersey Forest Plan is delivered through partnership coordinated by The Mersey Forest team, the partnership includes:

  • Seven local authorities
  • Natural England
  • The Forestry Commission
  • The Environment Agency
  • Other public, private and community sector organisations


Aims of the project/initiative: 

The vision is to get ‘more from trees’ to help make Merseyside and North Cheshire one of the best places in the country to live. The focus of the Mersey Forest Partnership is on delivery of outcomes:  

  • Improved health
  • Education
  • Image
  • Job opportunities
  • Reduced risks of poor air quality
  • Reduced risks of flooding
  • Empowering communities.
Progress so far: 

Some key outputs and outcomes to date are:

  • Woodland cover has doubled from 4% in 1991 to 8%
  • Nine million trees planted, three times the England average
  • 8,000+ street trees planted (Green Streets programme)
  • 65% of woodlands have brought into management, three time that since 1991.
  • 23% of the population live within 500 metres of an accessible woodland of at least 2 hectares (a Woodland Access Standard aspiration)
  • 77% live within 4 km of an accessible woodland of at least 20 hectares, this is higher than the England average
  • Two thirds of people visit their local woods.
  • 65% of people have noticed an improvement in their local landscape.
  • Over 200km of good quality walking or cycling routes have been created or reopened.
  • For every £1 invested, there was £2.60 of Gross Value Added and £10.20 of total economic benefits.
  • The woodlands will store 1.3 million tonnes of carbon over an 80-year period
  • Engagement of a wide range of range of public and private sector organisations and environmental initiatives
  • Making the economic case for investment in green infrastructure

The Mersey Forest has championed the green infrastructure agenda. This has included: 

  • advocacy work to get green infrastructure embedded in policy
  • convening think tanks and forums to develop the thinking and share ideas
  • developing an innovative mapping methodology
  • creating green infrastructure plans and strategies
  • accessing funding from sources not traditionally seen as closely related to the natural environment (e.g. health and transport sectors)
Challenges and lessons learned: 
  1. This is a long-term initiative with an approved Plan, providing a continuous framework to achieve the vision. The achievements to date are due to a strong partnership, from national to community levels. Working at different levels enables a short chain between policy and delivery, and vice versa.

  2. Monitoring and evaluation is vital to demonstrate the outcomes from investments and promote achievements.

  3. The benefits of trees and woodlands are relevant to a wide range of agenda. This means that there is a need to work with many partners, and to access a wide range of funding sources. However, at present the funders or beneficiaries are usually interested in buying particular benefits of the trees and woodlands, but not necessarily all of the benefits. There is an ongoing challenge to pull together the different funding sources in order to be able to fund projects that truly deliver multiple benefits.

  4. Green infrastructure planning has provided a more strategic approach to planning for green space and the natural environment, bringing together different environmental organisations under a common framework and speaking in an appropriate language to non-environmental sectors.
How does the Project reflect the ecosystem approach?
Principle #1: benefits from nature are important for all of society: 

As a result of The Mersey Forest, there are now more woodlands near to urban, deprived and ethnic minority communities, which means that there are increasing opportunities to engage with people who may typically be left out of environmental projects and programmes. 

Almost 40,000 community engagement events have been held! Over the years The Mersey Forest team has worked on numerous projects and in different capacities alongside:

  • Rural and urban communities
  • Over a third of schools in the area
  • 500 landowners
  • Young people
  • Elderly people
  • Friends of Woodland groups
  • Ethnic minorities
  • Faith groups
  • Disadvantaged communities
Principle #11: all knowledge and perspectives should be valued: 

During the 2014 refresh of The Mersey Forest Plan the consultation campaign reached an estimated 1 million people, which is almost 60% of the 1.7 million people who live within The Mersey Forest. There were around 1,600 responses from individuals and organisations.

Principle #12: involve more of society in decisions: 

Over the years, the Mersey Forest Team has developed strong relationships with universities; their research informs the work of the forest team and vice versa. The team encourages ongoing debate within the wider environmental sector and beyond, through involvement and often coordination of key networks, including the North West Green Infrastructure Think Tank and Forum and the Forestry Forum.

Principle #2 local is best: 

The Mersey Forest is a community forest. Without the community it would just be some trees. Community involvement, participation, decision making and ownership are absolutely fundamental to the success of The Mersey Forest. The Mersey Forest is created with people, not just for people - some great community designed projects include Mab Lane, Liverpool; Northwood Forest Hills, Knowsley and Griffin Wood, St.Helens.

Principle #3 think of others: 

The learning from The Mersey Forest (and other community forests) reaches beyond the physical boundaries.

Principle #4 understand economic context: 

£41 million of investment in projects has been secured so far. On average, for every £1 of core funding contributed to The Mersey Forest by local authority partners, £10 of additional funding is secured from other sources. 

The creation of a green infrastructure valuation toolkit helps make the economic case for investment in green infrastructure.

Scale and dynamics
Principle #7 work at the right scale: 

The geographic boundary of The Mersey Forest was drawn up in the late 1980s. This was influenced by the 1974 Strategic Plan for the North West produced by a joint planning team from central and local government. This recognised, among other things, the need to invest to improve landscape quality and recreational provision in opportunity areas close to where people lived. This is the area now covered by The Mersey Forest, which has been working to rectify the issues through planting trees and woodlands to address a regional deficit.

Principle #8 look well ahead: 

There are now over 11,000 ha of woodlands in The Mersey Forest. The long term management of this considerable resource is crucial for it to achieve its full potential and bring ‘more from trees’. 

Principle #9 be adaptable to change: 

The project safeguards, plants and manages trees and woodlands for their role in climate change mitigation, adaptation, and resilience, such as urban cooling, carbon storage, flood alleviation and water management, helping wildlife adapt, low carbon fuels and products, sustainable travel routes, and outdoor recreation opportunities. The Mersey Forest project continues to design, plant and manage trees and woodlands to increase their resilience to potential climate change impacts, such as changing pests and diseases.

Functions, goods and services
Principle #5 maintain the health of nature: 

The Mersey Forest project ensures that the natural regeneration, planting and management of trees, woodlands and associated habitats has a positive impact on biodiversity, complementing other important habitats. We continue to plant trees and woodlands as buffers to existing woodlands and to connect them into coherent networks. Hedgerows provide habitats for farmland birds and, along with street trees, form connectivity features. The project continues to increase urban tree cover. 

Principle #6 don’t overexploit: 

We continue to ensure that the natural regeneration, planting and management of trees, woodlands and associated habitats has a positive impact on biodiversity, complementing other important habitats. 

Further information
Contact name 

Paul Nolan

Role in project: 
Location map: