January has historically been seen as a hard month following the festivities and joviality of Christmas, with the post-holiday blues, the harsh weather, going back to work and totting up the Christmas spend things many people will recognise.
But as January passes we move one month closer to the spring, and for nature, particularly the garden and woodland, this is the time of rebirth.
With this in mind, I want to bring your attention to the Doddington Forest scheme.
In total, more than 600,000 trees will be planted at the site – the largest planting scheme in England for a generation. Those trees will help secure the future of rural businesses, and residents have been very supportive of the scheme, which will provide opportunities for forest education for school pupils and better access to a bouldering site. It will extend the red squirrel buffer zone, helping to protect that iconic species.
As the trees at Doddington grow, they will provide new habitats for many other birds and beasts, as well as soak up carbon from the atmosphere.
There will be new jobs too, in site preparation, tree planting and management. I am looking forward with great excitement to the start of the planting in the spring. Doddington is a great example of modern, mixed forestry. A combination of conifer and broadleaf trees will deliver multiple benefits for Northumberland’s economy, environment and communities.
I raised this in the House of Commons with the Secretary of State last week. I want the Government, and us as a nation, to be clear that this is not the end, but the beginning of our work creating new forests and habitats.
I am delighted that Michael Gove undertook to ensure that he will work to ensure we get our grant and approval system fit for purpose, encourage more people to plant trees and recognise it as the really positive and exciting thing it is. I am looking forward to helping to plant the first trees in one of our forests of the future.
While we are planting our environmental future, I am also focusing on the technological infrastructure of the future.
We have Matt Hancock as the new Secretary of State for Digital, Broadband, Media and Culture. Matt was previously Minister for Broadband so has a strong background in this area. You may recall that I wrote about my discussion with him before Christmas, where he undertook to push broadband to every part of our rural areas.
This work continues and I will be inviting him to North Northumberland so he can see for himself the difficulty and patchiness in provision and the broadband poverty in our patch. With broadband recognised as the fourth utility, we should be making greater progress this year on spreading it to every corner of the constituency.
It is clear with the opportunities that present themselves with greater broadband and fibre infrastructure, along with supporting our environment with holistic land management policy, the future for our region is bright, particularly with work under way on a Borderlands Growth Deal.
This will allow our region to make choices influenced by local people and by decision makers who know what is right for the character and growth of our area.
Coupled with a smooth and stable Brexit process, which is under way with the EU Withdrawal Bill clearing the House of Commons last week, it is the recipe for a bright and bold future for Northumberland, and our nation.
We need to work together and support our Prime Minister as she negotiates with our European partners about forging a new and dynamic relationship with the EU, which will ensure that Britain has the best possible Brexit to allow us to maintain our close bond with our European friends and reset and renew our relationships across the globe.