The National Trust has planted thousands of young saplings in areas across the UK as part of its ambitions to attract more wildlife, create new homes for nature, protect landscapes prone to flooding and to help in the fight against climate change.
The conservation charity has planted 60,000 trees over recent months, despite the coronavirus pandemic, kickstarting plans to plant and establish 20 million trees across England, Wales and Northern Ireland by 2030.
Other areas will be set aside for natural regeneration with fenced areas to limit grazing by livestock.
With a focus on planting the right trees in the right places and minimising any release of carbon through soil disturbance, several projects are underway in Wales, the south west, south east, north of England and Northern Ireland.
The rate of planting will also now be able to accelerate after an initial planning phase thanks to nearly £500,000 in public donations with the charity’s ‘Plant a Tree’ campaign, and the conservation charity has identified sites for a further 1.5 million trees to be planted over the next couple of years.
John Deakin, head of woodland and trees at the National Trust said: “The first two years of our 10 year plan was always going to be about doing the research and scoping out the right places to plant and establish trees – to try to ensure we maximise in balance the benefit to nature, regenerate landscapes or creating new woodlands near urban areas.
“Taking this time to plan means ensuring we avoid areas where trees might damage important existing habitat, or actually release carbon from certain soil types, like peat.
“Similarly, we need to ensure important historic views and parklands are maintained appropriately. We’re also considering where trees could provide the biggest benefit for nature, climate and people – for instance by expanding and linking existing woodland, or by identifying locations near towns and cities where many people will be able to enjoy them.
“There are many stages to this work, starting with computer modelling, mapping and then getting out to actually walk the sites so we can ‘ground truth’ the data – there really is no substitute for actually getting out on the ground to understand the lay of the land.”
The tree planting projects which have been able to get underway are thanks to financial support from key partners including Cotswold Outdoor, Great Western Community Forest, Manchester City of Trees and People’s Postcode Lottery, and £70,000 raised through the charity’s Plant a Tree appeal.
Mr Deakin added: “We are extremely grateful to the donations from individuals and partners that we’ve received to date.
“It’s clear that people have a big connection and love for trees and these funds have been vitally important to kickstart our efforts and we’ll be able to create new woods that benefit more people.
“We are now poised to accelerate the next phase of planting, thanks in part to these donations, which will result in faster boosts for nature, carbon storage and flood protection.”
Two of the first projects to be funded by the plant a tree appeal are at Sherborne in Gloucestershire and Kingston Lacy in Dorset.
On the 4,000 acre Sherborne Park Estate in Gloucestershire, the National Trust is working together with one of its tenant farmers to plant 9,000 trees and shrubs across eight acres of land to create a more diverse habitat to benefit both nature and livestock.
A range of tree species including oak, beech, lime, field maple, rowan, wild cherry, wild service, wild pear, crab apple, hazel, holly and hawthorn are being planted.
There are several components to the project including shelterbelts, open woodland and agroforestry.
Approximately 4,700 trees, including 60 fruit trees, 5,800 shrubs and 350 fruit bushes are being planted to create a diverse habitat and to enhance the limestone grassland and species-rich hay meadows recently converted from former arable farmland. The trees and shrubs planted are a mixture of native broadleaved species and fruit/berry trees. They have been selected to achieve as much variety as possible and deliver maximum benefit for nature.
Simon Nicholas, Countryside Manager at the Sherborne Park Estate says: “Our aim is to create a diverse habitat and to enhance the limestone grassland and species-rich hay meadows recently converted from former arable farmland.
“We know that diverse woodlands are more resilient to diseases and climate change. Planting a range of trees which are rich in pollen when they bloom in the spring – before turning into fruits, seeds and berries in the autumn will benefit a whole host of species.”
Tenant farmer Jonty Brunyee says: “Tree planting has many benefits for us as farmers. We will have additional shade, shelter and food (browse) for our livestock plus fruit, nuts and berries for human consumption. We can coppice some areas for fuel and woodchip in the future too. Planting is one way of moving the business towards net zero alongside reducing fossil fuel use and better soil and grassland management.”
A unique element of the project will be the creation of a blossom rich wild cherry, crab apple and hawthorn tree circle which will be a space for future visitors to the farm to enjoy. This is one of the first rural blossom circles to be planted after the charity announced its blossom project – part of its work to connect more people with nature – last month.
Jonty added ‘’We have worked closely with the Trust to get the right trees in the right place. We should not plant everywhere – we have to consider archaeology, landscape impacts, current wildlife value and food production needs – but all farmers can do their bit.”
The largest project to get underway to date is the creation of a coastal woodland and wood pasture on the north Devon coast where 16,600 trees have been planted so far funded by Cotswold Outdoors and supporter donations. The aim is to plant a total of 125,000 trees over the next three to five years.
Daniel Cameron, National Trust ranger says: “We aim to create mosaics of new woodland, right on the coast – a unique environment which in 50-100 years will benefit nature including pollinators, small mammals and bats, plus people.
“By expanding existing areas of woodland, the aim is to help tackle the climate crisis and build a natural corridor to give wildlife a better chance of survival.
“There are so many benefits to planting trees; we can improve valuable habitats and biodiversity while making an impact on carbon emissions that contribute climate change. Besides all of this, trees create a wonderful oasis to escape for peace and tranquility.”
Some of the planting projects will also help with flood management.
At Hafod Garegog in North Wales, the team is aiming to improve biodiversity as well as helping with flood management, by planting trees on an area of reclaimed sea bed currently covered in rushes.
David Smith, Lead Ranger on the project for the National Trust says: “Our aim is to plant native tree species which can deal with wet conditions such as aspen, black poplar, willow, birch and hornbeam.
“The new habitat will be a real boost to wildlife, improving connectivity with existing ancient woodland and will also store carbon to help tackle climate change
“The trees should also slow the flow of water when there is flooding which should benefit surrounding landscapes and communities.
“Trees need a tremendous amount of water – and if you plant thirsty trees in boggy areas which are notorious for flooding you can purposefully slow the flow of water to protect habitats and housing downstream – and create the right sort of environment that animals such as many insects birds and bats love.”
“The site borders a National Nature Reserve with lots of ancient trees, so this new area will act as a buffer and enhance that habitat for wildlife too.”
For more information on the National Trust’s tree planting ambitions, or to make a donation, visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk/plant-a-tree
Header image: Paul Harris/National Trust.