National Highways plants first trees at new community woodland in Essex
National Highways has (29 November 2022) planted the first tree at Hole Farm Community Woodland, in Great Warley near Brentwood, Essex, with help from pupils from a nearby school and the leader of Brentwood Borough Council.
Hole Farm Community Woodland is a 95 hectare site that sits alongside the M25 at the northern end of the proposed Lower Thames Crossing. It is owned by National Highways but is being developed and managed by Forestry England. With a size equivalent to 135 football pitches, the site will become a multi-purpose woodland – an inspiring place for people to visit and explore, and a thriving habitat for local wildlife.
The very first trees were planted this morning by Year 6 pupils from nearby Woodlands Preparatory School along with help from Councillor Chris Hossack, Leader of Brentwood Borough Council. Around 14,000 trees will be planted over an area of approximately five hectares at Hole Farm this autumn, with species including oak, hornbeam, hazel and scots pine. The trees will initially be contained within a fenced area whilst they are being established, to protect them from damage from wildlife without the need for tree guards. Site surveys and research reports have been consolidated to ensure the right trees are planted in the right place and have the best chance to thrive.
A recent consultation saw the local community asked for feedback on ideas for the site, and the final plans will be available soon. New facilities being considered include a café and community centre.
Hole Farm forms part of the Lower Thames Crossing’s plans to mitigate the impact of the new road, with planting on some of the site to provide compensation for the loss of ancient woodland and open areas will provide replacement public open space for land affected at Folkes Lane Woodland. Creation of the new Community Woodland will still go ahead even if a Development Consent Order, which would give permission for the road and tunnel to be built, is not granted.
The Lower Thames Crossing recently announced its commitment to plant one million extra trees in Kent, Thurrock, Essex, Havering and Brentwood as part of plans to enhance the local environment when building the scheme. National Highways has worked with Natural England to develop plans for more joined up habitats and new woodland planting across the region. Professional long term management plans and joined up planting will create green corridors, enabling wildlife to move more easily between habitats and become more resilient to future pressures such as climate change. Large “landscape scale” proposals include two new public parks in Thurrock and Gravesham and other habitat creation spreading as far as Maidstone in Kent and Upminster in Havering, as well as Hole Farm Community Woodland, adding up to over 400 hectares of woodland planting.
Matt Palmer, Executive Director, Lower Thames Crossing said: “We’re designing the Lower Thames Crossing to be the greenest road ever built in the UK, and today’s planting of the first of one million extra trees near the route is a huge step towards making that ambition a reality – years before construction of new the road gets underway. Thanks to partnership with Forestry England we are making Hole Farm Community Woodland a place where plant life and wildlife can flourish, and local people can enjoy for generations to come.”
Councillor Chris Hossack, Leader of Brentwood Borough Council said: “We have been involved since the start of this project which is already making a difference to our community and will continue to grow for generations to come. The involvement of local school children is just one of the planned steps to ensure the wider community is very much involved.”
Georgina Ellis, Woodland Creation Project Officer, Forestry England said: “We’re delighted to be working with local people, groups, and organisations to shape and plant this new community woodland to become part of the nation’s forests. Our shared vision is to create an inspiring place for people to visit and explore, and for wildlife habitats to thrive.”
The proposed Lower Thames Crossing would ease capacity on the Dartford Crossing – one of the UK’s most strategically important roads but also one of the most congested – by taking around 13 million vehicles off it each year. The new road would almost double road capacity over the Thames east of London, and give the UK economy a boost by creating a reliable new connection between people and jobs and the area’s ports, distribution hubs and manufacturing centres.
The new community woodland and additional trees are part of National Highways’ plans to design the Lower Thames Crossing to be the greenest road ever built in the UK. A tunnel was chosen rather than a bridge to avoid protected wetlands and marshes, seven green bridges would provide safer crossing points for people and wildlife, and viaducts are planned to protect a nearby flood plain. Over 60km of new or improved pathways would be made available for walkers, cyclists and horse riders. The scheme is also a Pathfinder project, exploring carbon neutral construction, and is the first UK major infrastructure project to put carbon reduction at the heart of its procurement process, with contractors incentivised to drive down carbon at every step, and throughout the supply chain.
On Monday (28 November), the project took a step forward in the planning process when the Planning Inspectorate accepted National Highways’ application for a Development Consent Order and it will now be examined by a panel of independent, government appointed experts. If consent is granted construction could start as early as 2024.