He was joined by Government-appointed Tree Champion Sir William Worsley, representatives of the Woodland Trust and Community Forest Trust, and pupils from St Andrew’s CE Primary School in Radcliffe, Greater Manchester, where planting of 200 trees is under way.
This is a small part of the government’s £5.7 million investment, under which the Woodland Trust and Community Forest Trust aim to plant more than 50 million trees from Liverpool to Hull over the next 25 years.
Spanning more than 120 miles, the Northern Forest is intended to help boost habitats for woodland birds and bats and protect iconic species such as the red squirrel, as well as providing a tranquil space for by millions of people living in the area.
Rutley said: "It is a privilege to be here to see the Northern Forest take root, and to plant the first of many government funded trees which will contribute to what will one day be a great and mighty forest.
"This new forest will benefit communities across the north of England and deliver on our pledge to leave the environment in a better state for future generations."
The Woodland Trust and Community Forest Trust estimate this new forest will generate more than £2 billion for the country’s economy.
The Woodland Trust's Northern Forest programme director Simon Mageean said: "A new Northern Forest will strengthen and accelerate the benefits of community forestry, support landscape scale working for nature, deliver a wide range of benefits, including helping to reduce flood risk, and adapt some of the UK’s major towns and cities to projected climate change.
"The North of England is perfectly suited to reap the benefits of a project on this scale. But this must be a joined up approach, we’ll need to work with Government, and other organisations to find innovative funding mechanisms to ensure we can make a difference long term."