Alasdair Fagan – Woodland Creation Officer
In a previous blog I talked about the importance of collecting and growing on tree seed from the North York Moors and the benefits of a combined genetic approach to planting woodlands to provide them with the best chance of withstanding climate change impacts in the future.
It is now widely accepted that tree planting has a major part to play in helping to offset the emissions contributing to global warming. The UK is committed to reducing carbon emissions by 80% (compared to 1990 levels) by 2050. A recent study by The Crowther Lab of ETH Zurich suggests that a global effort to plant one trillion trees can have a huge potential to tackle climate change.
The 25 year Environment Plan released in 2018 outlines governmental ambitions to plant 11 million trees in new woodlands by 2021 through national grant schemes such as Countryside Stewardship and the Woodland Carbon Fund administered and regulated by the Forestry Commission.
The sequestration of carbon is one huge benefit provided by trees, but planting trees can have numerous smaller scale advantages too including;
- Significant benefits to biodiversity
- Creation of a priority habitat
- Reducing soil erosion
- Reducing the flow of water downstream
- Providing shelter to livestock and game
Which leads me onto Woodland Creation in the North York Moors …
Between 2000 and 2017, this National Park saw the planting of over 150 hectares of low density wood pasture/parkland and over 560 hectares of new native woodland; that equates to the planting of over 622,400 native trees!
Looking forward, we have ambitious targets to create 7,000 hectares of ‘environmentally positive’ new woodland over the next 100 years. This will mean we’d plant over 7 million trees! This will increase woodland cover from 23% to 25% of the National Park.
But we’re not gung-ho about it. Every woodland creation proposal is carefully planned and there are many considerations to be examined and consultations to be carried out during the developmental stages of each individual project. Things to think about include:
- Existing ecology and habitats
- Existing archaeology and cultural heritage features and records
- Current land sse
- Woodland networks in the landscape
- Public Access and Rights of Way
- Landscaping impacts
- Impacts on groundwater
- Appropriate species
- Provenance of seed/trees
- Future impacts of Climate Change (ESC tool)
- Tree pests and diseases (chalara, alder rust etc)
- Land designations (e.g. SSSI, SAC, SPA)
- Open Access Land
- Parish Council
- Inclusion on Public Register
- Neighbouring landowners
- Environmental Impact Assessment (if over 2 ha)
Each project has its own issues and individualities. Here are three examples of woodland creation projects over the last couple of years.
Cam House, Bilsdale
This woodland creation project in Bilsdale is a large planting scheme of over 15 hectares. There are 17,825 trees planted of 18 different species.
The site varies somewhat in terms of hydrology with some areas being particularly wet. These areas are planted with species that prefer wetter ground (willows and alder) but the majority of the site is planted as diverse oak and hazel woodland, with other species such as birch, holly, wild cherry and crab apple included to provide maximum climate change resilience and benefit for biodiversity.
Aspen has been included to further futureproof the woodland against potential issues such as climate change and disease, after consulting the ecological site classification software for the site. This is an online tool used to calculate what the suitability of particular tree species are to potential planting sites. The tool uses information such as soil wetness, soil PH, wind exposure and climate data to estimate how well trees will grow. It also usefully has a future projections function which is linked to the Met Office’s future climate data, which allows us to try to predict how a changing climate might alter the site and suitability for tree species – some will become less suited to the site and others will become more suitable, such as aspen.
Ayton Banks is a site that is extensively covered in dense stands of bracken. The landowner’s primary objective for the planting is to sustainably control the bracken long term whilst creating a diverse woodland habitat. 8,610 trees were planted across 5.43 hectares using site appropriate native species such as oak, hazel, birch and rowan.
The wider Ayton Banks site is an historic Alum Works, now a Scheduled Monument. The proposals for woodland planting were carefully developed with the National Park Authority’s Historic Environment Team to ensure that none of the sensitive areas of the monument are influenced by the project.
Howe End, Danby
This lowland planting project presented the perfect opportunity to work with volunteers and other groups due to its proximity to our National Park Centre at Danby, the ease of access and parking, and the cooperation of the landowner (who is a National Park Volunteer).
3,500 trees were planted over two months by a wide variety of volunteer groups as well as local primary school children, National Park staff and apprentices.