This week marked the start of the largest ever National Trust tree planting project at the conservation charity’s Slindon Estate in West Sussex.
The ten year programme, named ‘The Rise of Northwood’, will see 75 hectares (185 acres) of woodland – the equivalent of 105 football pitches – restored to its former glory, having been removed during the First and Second World Wars. Thanks to a generous legacy left to the Trust for use in the South Downs, the Slindon Estate team’s vision for the area has become a reality.
Over three months, volunteers will help to plant 13,500 native trees at Northwood using seeds collected from the surrounding woodland. In just two days, more than 3,000 trees had already been planted, thanks to the support of more than 100 volunteers.
This planting, however, is just the beginning of a ten year project, with many more trees expected to emerge through natural colonisation, direct seeding and further planting of saplings.
Crucially, in line with the Trust’s wider conservation strategy to ensure that its places are rich in wildlife, the project will join together sections of isolated woodland. This will help to extend the habitats of many species, including barbastelle bats, the silver-washed fritillary butterfly and, the conservation charity hopes, encourage the return of the endangered dormouse.
Footpaths and bridleways will also be introduced, making the woodlands fully accessible for visitors.
Hannah Woodhouse, National Trust project ranger, said: “We’re really excited about restoring this historic woodland. The benefits to local wildlife will be huge, giving them room to move and grow.
“For our visitors, as well as providing more exciting wildlife spotting opportunities, Northwood will be a brilliant place from which to enjoy newly created vistas that take in the dramatic sight of ancient whalebacked Nore Hill.”
The project comes at a time when the National Trust is celebrating a boom in tree planting across its parks and woodlands. This is not always huge quantities of trees but an increase in projects where the desired long-term effect can often be achieved by planting a relatively small number of trees in strategic places.
Many of the projects are thanks to lifetime giving and legacies, which allow the Trust to carry out this vital conservation work.
On the Wimpole Estate in Cambridgeshire, a conservation review revealed the large number of historically significant trees which had been lost over time in the parkland.
An anticipated 1000 trees will be planted over the next ten years, including oak, lime and beech to restore it to its former glory and maintain it for years to come.
At Downs Banks near Stone in Staffordshire, rangers and volunteers will spend the winter planting hazel trees along the side of steep slopes to help stabilise the soil, preventing erosion and landslips.
A relatively small number of trees are being planted at Downs Banks every year in order to develop woodland with trees of varying ages. This long term process creates more diverse woodland, helping to protect it against the threats of climate change and diseases which threaten older, weaker trees. The diversity also lends itself to creating a richer habitat for wildlife.
Ray Hawes, head of forestry for the National Trust, said: “Our trees have had a tough time recently with the growing threat of diseases and extreme weather challenging their resilience.
“By ensuring our parks and woodlands have a variety of ages as well as species of trees, we are giving them the best chance of survival.”