100,000 trees to be planted in bid to create England’s biggest native woodland and ‘restore entire ecosystem’

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Conservationists hope the decades-long programme will “restore an entire ecosystem” and give nature a “big boost”

Conservationists are hoping to create England’s biggest native woodland to “restore an entire ecosystem” by planting 100,000 trees in the Yorkshire Dales.

Snaizeholme, near the town of Hawes, was covered in woodland centuries ago but the 561-hectare valley is now almost barren.

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Tree cover across the Yorkshire Dales amounts to just 5%, according to the Woodland Trust, while ancient woodland - which is the most beneficial for wildlife - makes up a mere 1% of that cover.

The trust is aiming to raise £8 million for a decades-long programme that will restore the forest, providing habitat for threatened species such as woodland birds and black grouse.

By slowing the flow of water on the hillsides, trees can also improve the wetland environment, giving space for otters and kingfishers to thrive, while also reducing the risk of flooding for residents nearby.

There is also a plan to plant trees next to an existing ancient woodland where red squirrels live to expand their home, and dry stone walls currently in place will be maintained to offer shelter for small mammals and lizards, the trust said.

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Planted trees will be mostly native broadleaved species such as alder, silver birch, downy birch, willow, aspen, rowan, hawthorn and blackthorn, with montane species on the higher slopes.

The first phase of the planting will begin this weekend (22 April) and has received funding from the White Rose Forest, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and corporate donors.

More trees than needed will be planted as not all will survive in the windswept, rainy upland valley. They will be arranged at random and without plastic guards to help spur natural forest growth, the trust said.

The conservationists also plan to restore the area’s peatland by trapping water in the valley and allowing it to soak into the ground. They said this will slow the flow of water into the River Ure as well as being an important carbon sink and habitat.

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100,000 trees to be planted for England’s largest native woodland. (Photo: Getty Images) 100,000 trees to be planted for England’s largest native woodland. (Photo: Getty Images)
100,000 trees to be planted for England’s largest native woodland. (Photo: Getty Images) | Getty Images

‘We will be giving nature a big boost’

Al Nash, who is heading the project for the Woodland Trust, said it is “clearly a wonderful opportunity to create something tangible in the Yorkshire Dales for the fight against climate change”.

He said: “I love the Dales but the one thing it lacks in many areas is an abundance of trees. Here we will be giving nature and biodiversity a big boost and creating a vibrant mosaic of habitats and a rare opportunity to create a sizeable wildlife haven for the north of England.

“Woodland birds will have a home here for the first time in centuries, and open scrub woodland should benefit endangered species like the black grouse.”

He added: “The work we do here will restore an entire ecosystem, lock away carbon for years to come, help improve water quality and mitigate flooding in the area.”

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Guy Thompson, director of the White Rose Forest, said: “We are delighted to see tree planting under way at Snaizeholme.

“This truly outstanding project will not only bring numerous benefits to the Dales and its communities but also demonstrates the continued commitment of the White Rose Forest to deliver landscape scale projects for natural flood management and nature recovery in Yorkshire.”

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