The Wyre Forest has become the largest woodland National Nature Reserve (NNR) in England.
NNRs are designated by Natural England and are rare, precious areas which protect some of our country’s most important places for wildlife and geology.
The Wyre Forest reserve, which dates back to at least the year 900, has been extended by almost 900 hectares so that it now spreads over 1,455 hectares.
The forest, which straddles the Worcestershire and Shropshire border is managed by Natural England and Forestry England and includes Worcestershire Wildlife Trust land.
Colin Raven, director at Worcestershire Wildlife Trust, said: “The Wyre Forest is home to amazing and rare wildlife, and we’re delighted that the National Nature Reserve is being expanded.
“As well as the wonders of wildflowers, fungi, reptiles and mammals, there are a number of bird species that are very sensitive to disturbance so having more protected land should help to give them a real boost.
“Wildlife doesn’t recognise borders, so we need more, bigger, better, and connected landscapes for nature.
“Nature’s recovery isn’t just about protected areas; we need more nature everywhere if we are to halt its decline.
“This expansion is a great start in helping to reach our target of 30 per cent of land managed for the benefit of nature by 2030 and we hope that it will inspire residents throughout the Wyre Forest and beyond to think about how they can also provide space for nature.”
The nation’s forests play a vital role in tackling the climate crisis and biodiversity loss as well as providing a source of sustainable, home-grown timber; carbon capture and places for people to enjoy.
This extension recognises the importance of managing forests sustainably, so they have long-term, positive benefits for wildlife, people and the climate.
Emma Johnson, Area Manager at Natural England, said: “The Wyre Forest is an amazing place for people to enjoy and is also home to a wide range of wildlife.
“It’s wonderful that this forest is now the largest native woodland in England and the size is equivalent of around a whopping 1700 football pitches.
“The Wyre Forest NNR provides huge benefits for people and wildlife.
“These include soaking up carbon and helping slow the flow of water off the land to prevent flooding.
“The partnership between Forestry England and Natural England means that the NNR is well managed now, and well into the future.”
The Wyre Forest NNR features a diverse array of habitats from forest to open grassland meadows, old orchards and areas of scrub, to steep-sided valleys, created by geological faults.
It is home to a vast array of wildlife including protected mammals, reptiles and birds. Its butterfly and moth populations are significant, with 58 per cent of the UK’s butterfly species recorded here.
Wyre Forest is a rare example of an ecologically diverse woodland situated close to a large population living within 20 miles of the site.
The visitor centre welcomes around 350,000 people each year, and gives people access to explore the wider forest.
Visitor numbers have risen during the COVID-19 pandemic, as more people have recognised that getting outside and exploring local green spaces can have great benefits on their health and wellbeing.
Kevin Stannard, forest management director for Forestry England’s West District, said: “Our nation’s forests play a critical role in tackling the climate crisis and biodiversity loss that we are seeing globally.
“Resilient woodlands, well-adapted to the changing climate conditions we now expect, help us capture carbon, improve air quality, create beautiful places for wildlife to flourish and opportunities for people to connect with the natural world.”
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