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2.3M CAMPAIGN TO SAVE OUR ANCIENT WOODLAND JEWELS

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19 JULY 2005NEWS RELEASE No: 7792

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OAKWOOD FORESTRY COMMISSION WALES AT THE ROYAL WELSH SHOW

Vast areas of Wales's precious ancient woodlands are to be restored in a 2.3 million campaign to reclaim the jewels in the crown of our woodland heritage.

Launching the Reclaiming our Forgotten Inheritance (RoFI) project in the Forestry Commission Wales pavilion at the Royal Welsh Showground today (Tuesday, July 19), Environment Minister Carwyn Jones said it would "leave a permanent mark on the history of woodlands in Wales".

RoFI, run by Forestry Commission Wales, is the biggest project ever undertaken to safeguard these irreplaceable habitats. It will offer grants of up to 75% of costs to owners to restore their ancient woodlands and trigger a huge programme of restoration of the National Assembly's woods, managed by FC Wales.

Over the next three years the process of felling thousands of conifer trees planted on ancient woodlands will begin, returning an area the size of 13,000 football pitches to the rich, diverse habitats they were more than 400 years ago.

Many of these plantations on ancient woodland sites (PAWS), planted with conifers in the 1950s and 1960s, will be due to be felled in the next 10 years and the race is now on to ensure these woodlands are restored instead of being planted with a second generation of dense conifers which would destroy forever some of the hidden treasures of our natural heritage.

With the help of funding received from the European Union, the project will fund the restoration of over 5,000 hectares owned by the Welsh Assembly - where most PAWS sites are located - and 400 hectares in privately-owned woods across the Objective 1 areas in West Wales and the Valleys. It means that RoFI will kick-start restoration of almost one-quarter of the PAWS in Wales.

Mr Jones said, "Wales’s woodland, particularly our ancient woodland, is an important part of our heritage, and a huge asset to us as a nation. The outcome of this project will be a lasting legacy to future generations who will be able to enjoy the benefits of the work that we are currently undertaking, bringing these plantations back to their natural state.

"We owe it to our children and our grandchildren to follow the lead of Forestry Commission Wales and become involved with the wonderful work we are now choosing to undertake."

RoFI is supported by Wales's leading conservation charity, Coed Cadw (The Woodland Trust), the Countryside Council for Wales and the Forest and Timber Association, which represents private woodland owners.

Coed Cadw (The Woodland Trust) Chief Executive, Sue Holden, told the launch, "Over the next 10 to 20 years, we have a once-and-for-all opportunity to restore Wales's ancient woodlands to their former glory or see much of their unique wildlife progressively wiped out.

"It's a challenge that offers huge benefits to society, in environmental and social terms, and the Woodland Trust sees this as an absolutely key priority."

RoFI will offer grants of up to 75% of costs to encourage owners of ancient woodlands to help reverse the decline of these precious habitats by managing them in a way which achieves economic productivity and recognises their environmental importance.

Project Manager, Kath McNulty, said, "For private landowners, restoration is entirely voluntary. FC Wales spends the public purse and must deliver public benefits, but private landowners need additional help, advice and funding to consider restoration of their ancient woodlands."

As well as reversing the loss of our richest, most important sites for a vast range of insects, birds, animals, flowers and trees, the project will also increase tourism revenue as these awe-inspiring landscapes become more accessible, bringing economic benefits to nearby communities.

It is estimated the project will safeguard 81 jobs by providing 2 million of work for local contractors.

Mr Jones said, "Today is only a starting point for this exciting project, but it is guaranteed to leave a permanent mark on the history of woodlands in Wales."

NOTES TO EDITORS

Ancient woodland is land that has been continuously wooded for at least 400 years - and often much, much longer. In some cases they form the last link with the original "wildwood" which covered the UK after the last ice age, 10,000 years ago.

Though the majority of the Welsh countryside was once wooded, ancient woodland now covers only a small proportion of the area of Wales. Yet, it provides a habitat for 232 rare and threatened species, more than any other UK habitat. Ancient woodland is also hugely rich in archaeological remains and is often important in terms of local folklore and its historical associations.

Ancient woodland is one of the great glories of our natural heritage; they are places of inordinate beauty, reservoirs of evidence for environmental change, archaeology and economic history. They are a source of inspiration for local culture and folklore. Our resource of ancient woodland is finite and cannot increase, so what remains is precious and irreplaceable.

There are approximately 62,000 hectares of ancient woodland left in Wales. Of this, some 27,000 ha have been replanted with non-native tree species. These are known as Plantations on Ancient Woodland Sites (PAWS). However, in many of these woodlands, characteristic native woodland species do survive under the conifers, along with features which indicate past management (such as wood banks or charcoal hearths).

Objective 1 funds: Match funding has been received from the European Union provided through the Welsh Assembly Government.

Forestry Commission Wales is the government department responsible for forestry policy and looks after the 320,000 acres (130,000 ha) of public forests owned by the Welsh Assembly Government. It sets an example of sustainable management in its own forests and encourages other woodland owners to do likewise, through grants, regulation, research and advice.

The Woodland Trust is the UK’s leading woodland conservation charity. It has 250,000 members and supporters. The Trust has four key aims: i) No further loss of ancient woodland; ii) Restoring and improving the biodiversity of woods; iii) Increasing new native woodland; iv) Increasing people’s awareness and enjoyment of woodland. Further news can be accessed via www.coed-cadw.org.uk

The Forest and Timber Association is the leading representative body for all those involved in the growing, tending, harvesting and management of trees, throughout the UK.

Media enquiries to Forestry Commission Wales Information Officer, Clive Davies, on 01970 625866, mobile 07788 190922, or Assistant Information Officer, Marian Gray, on mobile 07787 757982.

More information on the woodlands of Wales can also be found on the Forestry Commission’s website – www.forestry.gov.uk

e-mail: clive.davies@forestry.gsi.gov.uk