Planting for the future

Alasdair Fagan – Woodland Creation Officer

I believe that most people like the idea of trees being planted – as long as they are in the ‘right place’. Small, negligible seeds unfurling to create little, delicate saplings growing on and upwards into woody giants that dominate a landscape.

But why would we purposefully plant trees?  Here are some of the benefits that tree planting/woodland creation can provide.

Habitat

Each individual tree provides a habitats. Wooded habitats are some of the most diverse habitats in England; with many birds, mammals, insects and plants specialising in woodland environments these habitats are critical for biodiversity. Creating even small areas of woodland has the potential to greatly increase the number of species in almost any landscape.
Lesser? redpoll (woodland/wetland bird). Copyright Liz Bassindale, Howardian Hills AONB.

Lesser? redpoll  – this RSPB Red status bird has suffered severe population declines in the UK. It relies on wet woodland species like birch and alder.

Connectivity

It is important to look at woodlands from a landscape scale. Connectivity is the word used to evaluate how connected/joined up otherwise isolated fragments of habitat are. It is always a big advantage for tree planting if it helps to connect existing woodland areas and so allows woodland species to move freely across the landscape.

Newly planted woodland near Skipster Hagg Woods. Copyright NYMNPA.

Newly planted woodland near Skipster Hagg Woods, Appleton le Moors. The word Hagg suggests the land here has long been wooded. This new planting is an extension of an existing native woodland, which should improve connectivity through the landscape.

Water quality and retention

It is now widely accepted that planting trees and woodlands has benefits for the management of water catchments. Woodland filters sediment and nutrient run off from the land if planted between the source and a watercourse, and so can greatly improve water quality. Also when trees are planted along a river catchment they can help to slow down the flooding effects of heavy rainfall events by increasing the porosity of the soil. Water is more readily absorbed into the soil, thanks to the roots of trees, before being released into water courses of the catchment.

Bank stabilisation

Just as trees can slow down the movement of water they can also minimise the movement of landforms. The roots of trees help bind and stabilise river banks and hill sides. Trees hold landforms together minimising erosion and the displacement of soil, the effects of which can in some cases be devastating.

Small scale riparian woodland planting. Copyright NYMNPA.

Small scale riparian woodland planting in the Esk Catchment. The opposite bank is slumping and loosing soil resource into the water. 

Shelter

Trees and woodland copses carefully located on a holding can provide useful shelter for livestock and gamebirds. It has been demonstrated that shelter provided by trees has resulted in significant reductions in cold, wet and windy weather lamb losses.
Highland Cattle on Levisham Estate. Copyright Ami Walker, NYMNPA.

Highland Cattle on Levisham Estate taking advantage of the the woodland cover on a hot day.

Climate Change

One of the causes of climate change is the release of greenhouse gases (e.g. carbon dioxide) into the earth’s atmosphere trapping heat. Trees produce energy to live and grow by using sunlight to convert water and carbon dioxide through photosynthesis; a process which produces oxygen. So trees are using up Carbon Dioxide, storing carbon and generating essential oxygen.

Amenity 

As well as providing a land management tool, the presence of trees and woodlands can have positive impacts on the health and wellbeing of people. Trees and woodland are intrinsic to many landscapes, particularly so in the North York Moors. Woodlands provide amenity value as local cultural assets that can last for generations if looked after properly. Imagine the feeling of personal achievement in planting a new woodland that will grow and mature into the future, making a living mark on an evolving landscape beyond the constraints of a human lifetime.

View from Chimney Bank down into Rosedale. Copyright NYMNPA.

View from Chimney Bank down into Rosedale. Trees in the right place can really compliment the landscape and add amenity value from notable viewpoints.

The National Park Authority is looking for landowners and partners to create new woodland across the North York Moors. Funding is available for deciduous woodland planting projects of 1 hectare (2.5 acres) and above; the funding can cover the total costs of planting and establishment. If you are interested and would like more information please contact me by email or ring me on 01439 772700.

When is a woodland a wood?

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.Existing area of Ancient Woodland in Bilsdale. Copyright NYMNPA.

Contractors planting new woodland alongside the existing Ancient Woodland, back in 2001. Copyright NYMNPA.

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.

Part of the woodland planted approx. 16 years ago showing this year’s additional planting in the distance. Copyright NYMNPA.

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.

Loving Levisham Estate: a personal view point

Rachel Pickering – Natural Environment Team Leader

Every day (when I am not at my desk) I take the dog for a walk past ‘the view point’ and every day I love it!  How could you not?

‘The view point’: view from Newton on Rawcliffe looking north east over Levisham Moor. Copyright Rachel Pickering, NYMNPA.

‘The view point’: view from Newton on Rawcliffe looking north east over Levisham Moor

My favourite version of the view is when the wisps of mist are still stuck to the trees in the valley even when the rest of the morning mist has long since left. I get to admire the landforms – Newtondale, the finest example of a glacial-lake overflow channel in England, carving through the striking two tiered moorland plateau. If I time it right I can hear and sometimes see a steam train chugging and tooting its way into Levisham Station down in the valley.

What makes this view extra special for me in particular is that it comprises part of Levisham Estate which I manage, alongside our Senior Ranger David Smith, for the National Park Authority. Between us we ensure that the Estate, which has been owned by the Authority since the 1970s, is managed for National Park purposes. As well as the stunning landscapes it boasts some outstanding wildlife habitats and a full range of archaeological curiousities including scheduled monuments.

It’s not just me that thinks its special. The majority of the Estate is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (because of succession habitats, botany and geology), with the moorland also being designated as a Special Protection Area (because of merlin and golden plover populations) and a Special Area for Conservation (because of heathland habitats).

The majority of the Estate’s 3,358 acres are heather moorland but it actually includes a bit of everything. Here are a few of its gems:

Over the years we’ve been carrying out projects to conserve and improve the Estate. Here are a few examples of these:

Levisham Moor with heather in bloom. Copyright NYMNPA.

Improvements to the moorland grazing regime via a traditional Countryside Stewardship Scheme (2003-2013) and continued through the current Higher Level Stewardship agreement with the Commoners (Levisham Moor is Common Land).

Hole of Horcum following bracken control in 2015. Copyright/photo credit rjbphotographic.co.uk

Hole of Horcum area in 2015 showing positive results of bracken control . Bracken has also been specifically controlled on areas of high archaeological value at Rhumbard Snout and Dundale.

Carrying out scrub control at Station Field. Copyright NYMNPA.

Scrub control on wet grassland habitat at Station Field 2008.

Tree Planting, Hole of Hocum in 2011. Copyright NYMNPA.

Tree planting in the Hole of Horcum 2011 as part of the Slowing the Flow at Pickering partnership project.

Access improvements, Hole of Horcum in 2013. Copyright NYMNPA.

Access improvements being shown to National Park Authority Members – pitched path in the Hole of Horcum 2013.
Levisham Moor and the Hole of Horcum Walk

The Estate is a great place for volunteers to get involved. Over the last few years 4,000 of the trees planted are thanks to our committed volunteers. It has also proved to be a useful place for our Apprentice teams to practice their newly learnt skills including heather burning, bracken and scrub control, and fencing.

The Levisham Estate is a big commitment and a rewarding place for many people, not just me.

Footnote
I confess that I am feeling rather reflective at the moment as a couple of colleagues who have been working at the Park for even longer than me (over 18 years) are about to leave. I grew up near to Levisham Estate and have seen the changes close up, over time. A few years ago the following photos of ‘the view point’ were included in the ‘Now and Then’ photographic exhibition at The Moors National Park Centre, Danby. It was rather strange, but striking, that on the day I went to take the ‘now’ photograph there just happened to be four walkers sat on the bench. They were fascinated to see the level of change to the landscape and fortunately were very happy to be slightly rearranged to replicate the ‘then’ photograph.

The 'then' photo - looking down Newtondale, 1960s.

The 'now' photo - looking down Newtondale, 2012. Copyright NYMNPA.

Fostering hedgerow trees

John Beech – Land Management Adviser

Mature trees within a hedgerow network are an important feature in the countryside. This is where land managers across generations have allowed single hedgerow plants to grow to their potential, alongside hedgerow plants that are coppiced, laid, and managed to create a boundary. Hedgerow trees have no particular value in terms of land management, but have huge value for wildlife and for the landscape.

Re-laying a hedge - copyright NYMNPA.

Traditionally Elm, Ash and Oak trees were the dominant hedgerow tree species reaching heights of up to and over 30 metres tall, towering above the hedgerow corridors. Saplings that are allowed to grow higher than the surrounding hedge do not need to compete for light and therefore grow and spread their canopy high and wide up into the air. This provides a wonderful habitat kingdom for many species of wildlife, free from the clutch of ground based predators. Such trees act as key wildlife ‘stepping stones’ between woodland habitats and across a mixed landscape.

Large hedgerow tree near Low Askew - copyright NYMNPA.

The intensification of agriculture in the latter half of the 20th century including increasing field sizes resulted in the loss of thousands of miles of hedgerows along with their hedgerow trees. The outbreak of Dutch elm disease from the late 1960s onwards removed some 20 million elms from our countryside, mostly from hedgerows. It is therefore quite rare now to find a mature Elm tree within a hedgerow. Similarly Ash trees are now threatened by Chalara dieback.

In 1998 there were an estimated 1.8 million hedgerow trees in Britain (CPRE survey). Many of our over mature hedgerow trees today are beginning to die and slowly retrench. There is an adage that an Oak tree takes over 200 years to grow and then 200 years to die.

Planting hedgerow gaps between old hedgerow trees - copyright NYMNPA.

To check the loss of hedgerow trees we need to be planting new ones to replace the ones that are dying back. The 1998 survey revealed that only 1% of hedgerow trees were in the youngest age class (1-4 years old). Without successional planning there is a danger that these key features will be lost for good from the landscape and the disconnection between farmed land and semi natural woodland will become more marked than ever. It takes a leap of imagination but by planting now land managers will be leaving their mark on the landscape for their children.

Trees take time to grow. Native wildlife species use hedgerow trees but birds, bats and butterflies in particular favour mature hedgerow trees.

Hedgerow trees in the landscape - copyright NYMNPA.Tawny Owls take advantage of mature trees both as nesting sites and day roosts usually hiding close up against trunk. From a tree perch owls can see the movement of their potential prey on the ground below them. Bullfinches clamber amongst the branches searching for seeds, buds and insects. Treecreepers and Nuthatches use their Hedgerow trees in the landscape - copyright NYMNPA.acrobatic skills to forage for insects, nuts and berries and Woodpeckers drill away into the deadwood high in the canopy to make a home and feast on any tiny invertebrates in the wood. Butterflies such as Hairstreaks forage for honeydew from aphids and lay their eggs high up in the Oaks and Elms. Rich lichen communities also grow on the branches of old hedgerow trees.

In some of the older trees, holes and crevices provide ideal habitats for a variety of bat species. Around three quarters of British bat species are known to roost in trees. Bats use different parts of the tree for different reasons, depending on the time of year and temperature. In the summer bats use the higher canopy sites to have their young in warmer temperatures. In winter, they move deeper and lower into the tree to hibernate. Trees such as Oak, Beech and Ash are particularly suitable for bats, but any hedgerow tree has potential for a bat roost – especially if it has cavities in the trunk or branches, woodpecker holes, loose bark, cracks, splits and thick ivy. In Britain, all bat species and their roosts are legally protected by law.

Single hedgerow tree alongside an arable field - potential 'stepping stone' - copyright NYMNPA.

We’re working on enhancing wildlife corridors and connections through our habitat connectivity initiative, and as part of this we’re actively encouraging the planting of hedgerow trees where appropriate. With the loss of Elm and the threat to Ash, Oak is now the main species being planted in the North York Moors to become the hedgerow trees of the future. With good care and maintenance the trees should grow into vigorous specimens.

Mature hedgerow trees as a feature in the landscape - copyright John Beech, NYMNPA.

To foster hedgerow trees:

  • Select suitable saplings from within an existing hedgerow and add a tree tag to the top of it. This shows/reminds the person who cuts the hedge to leave this strong sapling to grow into a mature tree.
  • Alternatively, plant a hedgerow tree adjacent to an existing hedge to add variety and height. This has the added advantage of widening the hedgerow and enables useful wildlife buffer strips to develop along the hedge bottom. If there is an existing gap within a hedgerow that is wide enough to accommodate a hedgerow tree then plant a new tree there.
  • Try to avoid uniform planting and instead plant the new trees at irregular intervals along the hedge line. Planting two or three together may also be suitable for instance if a site is next to a field corner.
  • Plant trees with local provenance that will be used to the local conditions and be more likely to flourish.
  • It is best practice to add a tree guard or tube attached to a stake to protect a tree in its early years from stock, rabbits or deer. A mulch mat around the base of the tree helps to keep the weeds down. This will give the tree every chance to grow strong and straight.

Practical help and advice can be provided by the National Park Authority. Contact us.

The aesthetics of trees

Gallery

This gallery contains 41 photos.

Throughout the seasons, trees are like works of art in the landscape. Reason enough to value trees, not to mention they provide wood; clean and stabilise soil; produce oxygen and hold carbon dioxide; slow the flow of water; give shade and act … Continue reading

Operation Luzula

Kate Bailey – Conservation Graduate Trainee

Since starting as the Conservation Graduate Trainee last September, I have had lots of opportunities to get out and about with our hardworking National Park Volunteers undertaking practical conservation tasks across the National Park.

Last week, I joined the River Esk Volunteers for a day planting woodrush along the banks of the River Esk. Greater woodrush Luzula sylvatica is a native, perennial member of the rush family which grows in damp shady places. It thrives along river banks in the North York Moors, where it grows in tussocks providing great ground cover which helps stabilise the river bank.

A good example of Luzula sylvatica growing along the River Esk - copyright NYMNPA

However there are sites along the River Esk where the banks are void of any vegetation. When stock have access to the river, any natural regeneration gets nibbled off and the river banks are left bare and susceptible to erosion leading to sediment entering the water and choking the river habitat. Woodrush planting coupled with river side fencing to exclude stock and create a bankside buffer strip is potentially one of the solutions to this problem.

Planting woodrush as a means of stabilising the river bank has not been carried out before in the National Park. Simon, our River Esk Project Officer, identified a trial site which could benefit greatly from some conservation effort. The river was fenced off over winter, excluding stock from the damaged river banks and young trees – Hazel and Oak Luzula sylvatica being grown at Mires Beck Nursery– were planted. Last summer National Park Volunteers had helped collect woodrush seeds from other sites along the River Esk (to maintain the local provenance) which were then sent off to the Mires Beck Nursey near Hull. The Nursery primarily produces wildflowers for conservation projects whilst providing opportunities for people with learning difficulties to get involved with horticulture. Our woodrush seeds spent the last eight months being grown on and cared for by the knowledgeable staff and volunteers at Mires Beck Nursery. The plants were delivered back to the North York Moors last week, ready to be planted.

Woodrush planting task - copyright NYMNPA

It was an extremely well attended planting task for a Monday in March – and it was sunny. The River Esk Volunteers were joined by three members of staff from Mires Beck Nursery who made the journey up from Hull to deliver the 3600 woodrush plants. Hopefully the newly planted woodrush will flourish and the river banks will be covered in vegetation once more, safeguarding the River Esk habitat and all its associated species.

Planted woodrush on the banks of the River Esk - copyright NYMNPA

Woodrush planting is one element of the Esk Pearl Mussel and Salmon Recovery Project which is working to sustain Yorkshire’s last remaining population of Freshwater pearl mussels Margaritifera margaritifera. The River Esk Project has been boosted with a £300,000 grant from Biffa Award. The grant forms part of a larger £1.5 million Biffa Award project led by the Freshwater Biological Association that involves river restoration in a number of Freshwater Pearl Mussel catchments in the country, including in Cumbria and Devon, as well as Yorkshire. “This project is an exciting opportunity to save one of the most long-lived animals from extinction; the freshwater pearl mussel can live for more than 100 years and is internationally protected” – Gillian French, Biffa Award Programme Manager,

Biffa Award logo

Biffa Award is a multi-million pound fund that helps to build communities and transform lives through awarding grants to community and environmental projects across the UK, as part of the Landfill Communities Fund. More information on the award is available at www.biffa-award.org.