Hundreds of thousands of people are expected to make the pilgrimage to Epsom when the England's only First World War Centenary Wood opens there this autumn.

The 640-acre forest is to be created at Langley Vale, on the border between Epsom Downs and Mole Valley, on land which The Woodland Trust is purchasing for an undisclosed sum, believed to be around £6m, and which it described as the "perfect" location.

The trust announced on Tuesday that four "flagship woods", spanning 1,000 acres, will be planted, one each in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, in a £12m project to mark the anniversary of the start of the war.

The site will be bigger than the Olympic Park and will have 200,000 trees planted on it. 

It is expected to become a major destination for the millions who lost relatives in the Great War, with people able to dedicate trees to ancestors who fell in the conflict.

The trust is hoping that the public will fund the woods and just 24 hours after a website appeal was launched on Tuesday, £3m had already been donated.

The majority of Langley Bottom Farm, which is owned by St Quinton Estates and is still in use as agricultural land, is being sold to the trust for the project. 

The portion in Epsom and Ewell is the last remaining piece of agricultural land in the borough.

Karl Mitchell, Woodland Trust project director, said: "This site is located close to several major population centres, including London, which we hope will enable a huge number of people to visit.

"The site consists of a mix of arable land and ancient woodland, which does not come up for sale very often.

"We have been searching for our English Centenary Wood site for more than a year and Langley Bottom Farm provided the perfect opportunity.  

"It is arguably the most inspiring location we have seen for creating an area of woodland to commemorate the First World War.

"The trees planted during the course of this £12m project will stand for hundreds of years, providing a lasting tribute to all those involved in the First World War.

"We hope to see many thousands of people getting involved by planting their own tribute or dedicating trees in memory of loved ones.

"As well as representing enormous strength and bravery shown by the nation during the First World War, the trees that are planted during the course of the project will help strengthen our natural landscape, increasing its resilience to the threats posed by pests and diseases."

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A map of where the flagship forest will be created

A range of native species of trees will be planted such as alder, beech, blackthorn, wild cherry, crab apple, dogwood, field maple, guelder-rose, hawthorn, hazel, holly, pedunculate oak, whitebeam and crack willow.

Planting at the site, which will be managed by the Woodland Trust, will begin in the autumn and is due to continue until 2018.

Agents Strutt and Parker were marketing 700 acres of Langley Bottom Farm for sale, with offers in excess of £6.9m, but the Woodland Trust declined to reveal how much its land cost. 

The land has been secured by the trust, but has not yet been formally purchased.  

Although the trust has paid for the land using money from its reserves, it needs to raise £12m though public donations and its partnership with Sainsbury's to cover the cost of the four woods.

Mr Mitchell added: "In a competitive land market, the opportunity to purchase a significant area of land in the south east of England is extremely rare, and in order to secure the land we made a bold decision to use our strategic investment fund to underwrite the purchase.

"The pressure is now on to raise this money retrospectively, as well as fund the 200,000 trees we will plant and improve the access and interpretation on site."

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The majority of Langley Bottom Farm has been sold to the Woodland Trust for the project

The Woodland Trust has said there will be many opportunities for the public to volunteer and support the project.  It will be holding a public meeting on its plans at Langley Vale village hall on March 23 at 2pm.

Michael Jelly, who manages Langley Bottom Farm, said: "The owners were pleased to sell the land to the Woodland Trust who will make valuable use of it.

"The land has been on the market for a number of years and the Woodland Trust is the first group prepared to pay the right money for it at the right time."

MP Chris Grayling said the announcement was "very good news for the area and the future of the Downs" and a fitting way to mark the centenary of the war.

Epsom councillor Neil Dallen, chairman of the council’s strategy and resources committee, described the choice of site as "fantastic news and a little bit humbling".

He said: "Some may be concerned that the borough is losing its last piece of agricultural land however with greenbelt becoming under greater pressure, this will safeguard a huge swathe of the area as green space.

"The new First World War Centenary Wood sits between the sites of Woodcote Park Camp and Tadworth Camp, which saw thousands of recruits pass through them on the way to the trenches. 

"Parts of the Langley Vale site was used for the training of these troops, including for surviving gas warfare.  Five hospitals in Epsom were converted army hospitals for First World War wounded. 

"On 22 January 1915, an inspection by Lord Kitchener was held in blizzard conditions on Epsom Downs and, in total, over 20,000 troops were drawn-up for inspection."

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Planting of the 200,000 trees at Langley Vale's Centenary Wood will begin in the autumn

A spokesman for Mole Valley Council was just as enthusiastic: "We are already working with the Woodland Trust and neighbouring local authorities to ensure the plans are developed in such a way that brings benefits to our residents and are appropriate for the area."

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What do you think about the creation of the flagship forest? Email Hardeep Matharu on