I want to make some progress, because I have plenty to say.
To return to the different schemes, I had the pleasure of visiting the Lowther estate last month and planting the first of 213,000 trees this winter. That has been funded through the countryside stewardship scheme. I was shown its plans for future woodland schemes for a rich mix of broadleaf corridors and softwood plantations that together will provide commercial forestry as well as huge benefits for wildlife. That was truly impressive.
I was delighted that the largest forest to be planted in more than 30 years finally got the green light. The first of more than 600,000 trees will be planted this March at Doddington North moor. That 350-hectare forest will store 120,000 tonnes of carbon, help to manage flood risk, boost timber industry businesses and jobs, and help red squirrel populations. That was funded through the woodland carbon fund.
Most recently of all, as already alluded to, I know that hon. Members are applauding the launch of the northern forest. We expect 50 million trees to be planted for communities along the M62 corridor—truly a green heart, or ribbon, for the northern powerhouse. That long-term project is led by our friends at the Woodland Trust and England’s Community Forests, and we are kick-starting it with DEFRA funding to accelerate this ambitious project. I understand that our partners have already managed to secure extra funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund, and I am confident that over the timeline of the project, given their successful track record—which is why we are partnering with them to achieve it—they will be able to take advantage of not only corporate funding but development schemes that attract other kinds of Government funding.
We have continued to work with the industry and reviewed the schemes that we have in place to encourage more planting. In taking a number of steps to remove barriers that were discouraging applications for funding to support tree planting, we have made internal changes to improve operational processing. For example, the country has been mapped by the Forestry Commission, which has worked with Natural England to identify appropriate areas for significant afforestation. The commission is also working with National Parks to identify suitable planting areas, and I am looking forward to visiting the South Downs tomorrow to discuss that further.
We have raised the environmental impact assessment threshold for afforestation to 50 hectares in mapped low-risk areas, with full prior notification of relevant details required below that threshold to ensure that we maintain the environmental protection. The Forestry Commission has also set up a large-scale woodland creation unit to support the development of projects by directly influencing landowners. I am grateful to the chair of the Forestry Commission, Sir Harry Studholme, for stepping up his efforts. With him, I will be meeting landowners and estate managers later this month.
Informed by the review, we improved the application forms for the countryside stewardship scheme for 2018 and released guidance three months earlier than in the previous year, in effect significantly extending the application window, which opened last week. The woodland carbon fund, the aim of which is to provide larger forests—to recognise the point made by the hon. Member for Ipswich (Sandy Martin)—is a one-stop shop process administered by the Forestry Commission. Again, we have made significant changes, including lowering the planting threshold to 10 hectares, providing funding for forest roads and making a second-stage payment five years after planting. We have now received two more applications and I am aware of another 10 that are to be submitted.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet talked about the domestic carbon market and, as was highlighted in the clean growth strategy, we wish to establish that. That is my intention. The industry says that it needs more confidence that the planting rates are getting under way before we can establish something that is financially resilient, but I am confident that we can achieve that.
On there being two schemes, we are keeping both because they have different objectives. The countryside stewardship objectives include improvements in biodiversity and habitat, flood mitigation and water quality, while the woodland carbon fund focuses on largescale carbon capture. In both cases the UK forestry standard is the guideline on the mix of planting, which does not predefine the split of species, but diversification of planting, as we have heard, helps to improve woodland resilience and protects future supplies of timber, biomass and other benefits.
We are also considering future schemes carefully. I have previously challenged the sector on improving the quality of woodland creation plans so that they clearly satisfy the expectations of the UK forestry standard. I am pleased that the Forestry Commission, the Institute of Chartered Foresters and key forestry stakeholders are working together to develop support tools, training and communications to upskill all parties involved in the design, assessment and delivery of forestry proposals. Some of the most recent woodland creation planning grant applications have shown a high quality of design planning and are being used as exemplars to guide future applicants.
On active management, which has been discussed extensively today, we know that improving markets for hardwood timber will bring more undermanaged woodlands into production. This year we will continue to promote the market opportunities for timber. Our work with the ICF and other organisations to improve the quality of plans and the way in which we process them will reduce the time taken to get the management plans in place. We do not only support new planting. We offer options through countryside stewardship to support the active management of the woodlands we already have. Since 2016 we have had nearly 600 woodland management applications, which would support more than 44,520 hectares, bringing them back into active management.
On ancient woodland, my officials have met the Woodland Trust and other groups to discuss how best to prevent the loss of such woodland. We recognise its importance and that is why ancient woodland enjoys the special protection that will be further enhanced in the updated national planning policy framework. That said, our records show that there are 340,000 hectares of ancient woodland, which is 26% of total woodland area, and that between 2006 and 2015 just 57 hectares, or 0.02% of the overall ancient woodland area, were lost permanently to other land uses. We are exploring the opportunities for better recording the loss of ancient woodland, including the potential for updating the ancient woodland inventory. I understand that officials are still in discussion with the Woodland Trust about the detail, but its support is welcome.
On other Committee recommendations not already covered, Forestry Commission England will continue to publish the headline performance updates, which include the rate of new principal Government-supported tree planting and both the total area and the percentage of woodland in England in active management, on a quarterly basis. The Forestry Commission will review the indicators it publishes on woodland creation, aiming to reflect the creation supported by Government more clearly. The commission has also committed to providing the sector with information on short to medium-term expectations of planting rates, based on grant applications received and those in preparation. My officials have discussed with the Committee on Climate Change the long-term trajectory for woodland planting to match the five-year carbon budgets and our 2060 aspiration.
On the industrial strategy, it is for the industry to come forward with a proposal for a sector deal, but I assure my right hon. and hon. Friends that we absolutely support the industry. On skills and apprenticeships, the Forestry Commission worked with the sector to create a new apprenticeship standard, and it is liaising with industry, the Royal Forestry Society and the Institute for Chartered Foresters on the creation of higher-level forest manager apprenticeships. The commission is engaging colleges, training providers and assessment bodies to promote take-up of the standard. A small number of universities in the UK also provide forestry degrees, and last year I was pleased to meet students and recent alumni at Bangor University.
At the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, we are identifying options to encourage the use of more domestic timber in construction. Nothing will happen overnight, but the clean growth strategy clearly supports the use of more home-grown timber in construction. We will work with Confor, Grown in Britain and the sector. The locked-in carbon is the essence—instead of concrete, metal and all the other things, we can achieve things just as well with wood.
Across Government, we will continue to explore how to do more for British forestry and timber-processing businesses. On the renewable heat incentive scheme, we want to ensure that waste wood is used only in specifically designed boilers. On research—I am running out of time and I appreciate that the Chair of the Select Committee may wish to reply briefly—I assure him that we have developed strong links with the industry and non-governmental organisations. Forest Research devotes 25% of its budget to knowledge exchange. We also work with the Scottish and Welsh Governments to explore future business models. European Union funding is also possible, although EU regulation does not cover forestry. Finally, in response to the hon. Member for Falkirk (John Mc Nally), I have to be candid: future funding arrangements are a matter for further discussion between the Governments of the different nations. I can give no pledge today.
I hope that I have covered all the subjects I wished to. We have made some changes and we are seeing an uptick in the number of trees being planted. People are applying more through our different schemes, and I encourage them to do so further. We will continue to monitor that, adapting as necessary to achieve our ambitions.