“This whole area wants to be a wood,” says Edward Milbank, sweeping his arm across the former hill farm in Northumberland. Small saplings of birch have invaded the cleared ground, but many more trees are being pushed into the soil by hand.
The bracken and rhododendron that had overrun the hillside took heavy machinery three months to rip out. “When you disturb the soil, it becomes a wood very quickly,” says Milbank.
“But the Forestry Commission forced us to put in Scots pine as well. The entire area could be birch without spending a penny, but you have to be seen to be doing something to justify the [planting grants].”
his former sheep and cattle farm, Doddington North, is being converted into England’s largest private new woodland in 30 years, with 680,000 trees being planted over the 350 hectares. Moving down the hill, Milbank points and says: “The reason we were able to raise the investment is that – sitka spruce.”
The commercial timber tree will occupy 40% of the land, with native broadleaf trees such as birch, alder, aspen and oak on about a third and the rest managed as open grassland. Milbank, whose company Pennine Forestry is running the project, hopes it will encourage more wildlife, such as the red squirrels that live in an adjoining wood, and the kestrels that already fly overhead searching for the shrews that dart between tussocks.
The UK needs 1.5bn more trees, according to the government’s official climate change advisers, to suck up carbon dioxide and help restore wildlife. But the question of how they will be delivered – private or public, commercial or wild – remains open, despite the pioneering effort at Doddington North, which should be completed this winter.
James Trayte, who leads the team of planters, has done more than most. He reckons he has planted more than 2m trees in his 12-year career. Out since dawn, he has planted about 2,000 so far today, plucking the two-year old sitka saplings from bags around his waist, then prodding them into the hole he makes with a deft twist of the planting spade.
16 November 2019 The Guardian – Reforesting the UK