This week we are shouting about an initiative helping to keep our town green.

The Great Western Community Forest, now in its 25th year, is a scheme to increase woodland and areas of biodiversity around our town.

With Swindon at its heart, the forest covers 168 square miles from Royal Wootton Bassett to Faringdon and the North Wessex Downs to the Thames.

“‘Forest’ is a broad term,” explained Coun Gary Sumner, Swindon Borough Council’s cabinet member for strategic planning

“It includes a number of different landscapes such as meadows, wetland areas, and a range of habitats,” he said.

Led by the council, which works with community groups, parish councils and organizations like the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust, it was created in response to Swindon’s continued growth.

The aim is to create and manage natural environments for people to enjoy through diversifying land-use, revitalising derelict landscapes, enhancing biodiversity and providing opportunities for leisure and recreation.

“We have to have house building,” said Coun Sumner. “As house building happens, we lose the open spaces and these habitats are created to offset this and make sure that wherever people live in homes and in their employment, they will have access to open spaces to use and enjoy.”

“It’s a planning policy. When people want to build they have to contribute to the GWCF and we use the money to purchase land for woodland or other habitats,” he added.

A priority for the project is to increase woodland and tree canopy cover to 30 per cent on average across the area. Sites already included in the scheme are Stratton Wood in Kingsdown, Purton Wood and Warneage Wood in Wanborough which is a patchwork of woodland, grassland and ponds.

Last week saw the final thousand trees planted at Pack Hill Wood near Wanborough as part of project to add over 4,000 to the area.

Future plans include a new section of woodland next to the New Eastern Villages development in east Swindon.

“There will be 8,000 houses, but every single site there will be contribute to the Great Western Community Forest and additional habitats for wildlife,” said Mr Sumner.