The Heart of England Forest received a grant of £249,700 from the government Green Recovery Challenge Fund

The Heart of England Forest’s ‘Growing Future Forest Guardians’ project has been awarded a grant from the Government’s £40 million second round of the Green Recovery Challenge Fund, a multi-million pound boost for green jobs and nature recovery.

90 nature projects across England have been awarded grants from £68,100 to £1,950,000 to create and retain over 1,000 green jobs, backed by the Government’s £80 million Green Recovery Challenge Fund.

Work will be carried out on over 600 sites from North Northumberland to the tip of Cornwall, and combined with the first round, almost a million trees will be planted, contributing towards the Government’s commitment to treble tree planting rates across England by the end of this Parliament.

The ‘Growing Future Forest Guardians’ project will significantly restore and enhance a 21.4 hectare site close to Redditch.  The site contains woodland, hedgerows, grassland and ponds, which are all priority Biodiversity Action Plan habitats. The work will improve conditions for wildlife and maximise its potential for carbon sequestration through good management of woodland and grassland.

Crucially, this restoration and enhancement work will be delivered working with children, young people, and disadvantaged adults including those out of work, with learning disabilities or disproportionately affected by Covid-19 through job loss or interrupted education.

Beth Brook, Chief Executive, The Heart of England Forest, said: “We are thrilled to have been awarded this Green Recovery Challenge Fund grant. It will enable significant and much needed habitat restoration and enhancement work to take place at our Gorcott Hill site, east of Redditch.”

Across the 19-month project the Heart of England Forest will provide bespoke Forest learning programmes for schools, a tailored volunteering programme that develops skills and pathways into employment, and opportunities for these groups to increase their connection with nature. Two new full-time equivalent (FTE) roles will also be created to help deliver the project – a Biodiversity Officer and an Education Officer.

“The work carried out will of course benefit wildlife and the environment, but young people are right at the heart of this project. We want to proactively engage and encourage future forest guardians through providing practical opportunities for children, young people, and disadvantaged adults to learn, to develop new skills, to volunteer, and crucially, connect with nature. The project will make a real difference to local communities and future generations.”

The Green Recovery Challenge Fund is a key part of the Prime Minister’s 10 Point Plan to kick-start nature recovery and tackle climate change. Connecting people with nature is another priority theme: by increasing access to nature and greenspaces, projects will support both physical and mental wellbeing.

The Government’s Green Recovery Challenge Fund was developed by Defra and its Arm’s-Length Bodies. The fund is being delivered by The National Lottery Heritage Fund in partnership with Natural England, the Environment Agency and Forestry Commission.

Environment Minister, Rebecca Pow, said: “The diverse and ambitious projects being awarded funding today will help environmental organisations employ more people to work on tree-planting, nature restoration and crucially, help more of the public to access and enjoy the outdoors. Through our £80 million Fund, we are on track to support over 2,500 jobs, plant almost a million trees and increase nature recovery at a huge scale across the country, which will help us deliver against our 25 Year Environment Plan.”

Ros Kerslake, Chief Executive, National Lottery Heritage Fund, said: “From wetland restoration, to creating wildlife-rich habitat for bees, it is vital that we value, protect and rebuild our natural heritage. This new funding will not only allow projects to carry out direct conservation which is essential in protecting our biodiversity, but it will increase awareness of how and why we need to change our behaviours in order to protect our future.”

Emma Howard Boyd, Chair of the Environment Agency, said: “By supporting jobs from Northumberland to Somerset, the Green Recovery Challenge Fund will help deliver a nature positive future. The fund supports young people to develop skills needed to protect nature, build back greener and prepare for climate impacts, like floods and heatwaves.”

Natural England Chair Tony Juniper said: “Our environmental and conservation charity sector does an incredible job in protecting, improving and restoring the natural environment for the benefit of communities and the economy.”

Forestry Commission Chair Sir William Worsley said: “This funding will help deliver thousands more trees and help us achieve our target of trebling tree planting rates in England by the end of the Parliament. We need to work towards net zero emissions by 2050; to address biodiversity loss; to better connect people with nature; and to create more green jobs in doing so. Trees are central to this and the projects being awarded these grants will have a hugely important role in helping us realise these objectives.”