Managers of the South Downs National Park have identified 23,000 hectares of land for new woodland which could have “huge” potential to help fight climate change.
A study of the full extent of the national park, which spreads across Sussex and Hampshire, has been carried out to find suitable sites to plant trees ahead of National Tree Week starting on Saturday.
Of the suggested sites, 5,500 hectares lies within the national park, with other suitable areas ranging from Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) to urban areas.
A spokesman for the park authority, which has produced an interactive map detailing the proposed sites, said: “The potential new area of woodland – twice the size of Manchester – could store up to 37,667,500 tonnes of CO2 after 100 years.”
Sonia Lorenzo-Martin, who is responsible for the park’s woodlands, said: “Trees provide clean air for us to breathe, enrich our soils, provide a vital habitat for wildlife and, crucially, are amazing carbon capturers in the fight against climate change.
“This new research is very significant. It shows that we have the potential to create a major carbon sink in the South East of England that can help spearhead Britain’s fight against climate change.
“Around a quarter of the South Downs National Park is already wooded, so adding to that even more across the region is a very exciting prospect for our nation’s climate action.
“Every scheme counts and it could be that we help provide a blueprint for woodland creation that’s replicated across the UK.”
The park is also planting 28,000 trees in memory of the late Queen as part of its campaign to plant 100,000 trees in the next few years.
The spokesman said: “The tree-planting is restoring those lost to pests and diseases, including ash dieback and Dutch elm disease, as well as creating new habitat for wildlife and amenity value for local communities.
“The trees will be a mixture of disease-resistant elm trees and native species, such as oak and black poplar. Sites include schools, farms, recreation grounds and historic parks.”