Mark Antcliff – Woodland Officer
The National Park Authority has played a role in creating more than 600 hectares of new native woodland since the turn of the century, with something in excess of half a million trees established.
But when is a new woodland actually a wood and how do you measure the success of a habitat created?
In terms of tree growth the first milestone is when the young trees are fully established and have outgrown the competing vegetation and the attention of voles, rabbits, deer and livestock and their teeth. The second is when the branches of the new neighbouring trees meet – this is called “canopy closure” – from which point the ground flora will alter as shade tolerant and shade loving species will have better success, including our beloved bluebells. Perhaps a third is when the new trees reach a stage where they could be used to produce wood and timber through thinning or coppicing.
I was thoughtful of this question when revisiting a site that was planted about 16 years ago in Bilsdale. Here the area of an existing woodland had been extended by new planting, mainly young oak trees.
There were some initial challenges caused by a faulty batch of plastic tree shelters that degraded faster than they should have leaving the new trees vulnerable. However the trees are now fully self-supporting and I can walk under them, which for me personally is a good moment as I can then consider myself in a wood rather than looking at it. The icing on the cake however is that some of the trees planted 16 years ago are now producing acorns, a sign that a true self-regenerating woodland has been created.
Buoyed by such success we have, with the cooperation of the land owner and his agent, planted an additional area of 3 hectares this winter. I can’t wait to see how this new woodland extension looks in another 16 years’ time, alongside the ancient and post-millennial woods already in place.
As a Woodland Officer, I do tend to think in the long term.