Working towards a healthier woodland at Hardcastle Crags

View with crag across the valley at Hardcastle Crags, West Yorkshire

Read on to find out how we're working to keep Hardcastle Crags healthy and beautiful.

The woodland at Hardcastle Crags

Most of the woodland at Hardcastle Crags was planted in the 1870s to make the approach to Lord Savile’s shooting lodge at Walshaw more attractive. There are also small areas of semi-natural and ancient woodland, and some later conifer plantations.

The woodland is home to a good range of plants, birds, insects and mammals, including bats, roe deer and the northern hairy wood ant. A number of uncommon species, mostly ferns, have been recorded, and there’s over 400 species of fungi, including waxcaps in the adjoining fields – a species rare in the UK.

Our aims and ambitions

We’ve been looking after over 400 acres of land here at Hardcastle Crags since 1950. Our 10 year management plan helps us to plan what work we need to do to keep the woodland healthy and beautiful. Our top three priorities listed in this are:

  • Increase opportunities for local wildlife

  • Slow the flow of water across the land to help reduce flooding

  • Reduce our carbon footprint

Our other aims include: maintaining a visually beautiful site, protecting the site’s natural and cultural heritage, contribute to the local economy, and managing health and safety across the site.

" Hardcastle Crags is an important place for a wide range of species. It’s important that we manage the woodland here to improve the quality of the habitat by providing opportunities for the plants on the woodland floor to recover, create lighter conditions for young trees to grow and slow the flow of water across our land."
- Craig Best, Countryside Manager

How we’ll achieve our aims

Increase opportunities for local wildlife

  • Increase light levels to the woodland floor through thinning and selective felling: this is essential if we are to see the regeneration of new native trees and wild flowers.

  • Plant trees where regeneration does not occur naturally.

  • Create deadwood, both standing and fallen. Deadwood provides and important habitat for a host of species, from fungi, to beetles, to birds.

  • Work towards the removal of invasive species, in particular Himalayan balsam. These plants stop native flora from growing and prevent tree regeneration.

Slow the flow of water across the land

  • Increase the roughness and absorbency of the soil through promoting natural regeneration of trees and wild plants and flowers.

  • Continue to remove Himalayan balsam, an invasive annual plant that overpowers all native vegetation and leaves winter soils exposed. This significantly increases the potential for soil erosion and landslips.

  • Use wood and small tree trunks sourced from within Hardcastle Crags to create small dams in streams and drains to slow the flow of water though the valley.

Reduce our carbon footprint

  • Produce heat and electricity through sustainable sources. These include hydroelectric power produced by the Hebden Water and heating provided from on-site firewood.

  • Promote the growth of new trees and protect soils from erosion. This means thinning woodlands to increase light levels to a point at which new trees can grow.

What we’re doing this year

There are areas of Hardcastle Crags that are densely populated by beech trees. These trees block the light from reaching the woodland floor and have stopped plants and flowers from growing underneath them. The lack of ground vegetation is a problem for wildlife and is also a worry during periods of heavy rain. With no ground plants to slow the flow, the rain water flows quickly to the streams taking leaf litter and soil with it - this causes blockages which increases the risk of flooding in Hebden Bridge and the local area.

The dense beech trees cast heavy shadows on the woodland floor
A bare woodland floor surrounded overshadowed by dense beech trees
The dense beech trees cast heavy shadows on the woodland floor

This autumn/winter we’ll be starting work to selectively fell 40% of the woodland across several compartments. As well as increasing the light level to help the vegetation and wildlife on the woodland floor, new homes for bats and birds will be created from the thinned beech trees, and their branches will be used to build leaky wooden dams – natural flood management techniques to help slow the flow of rainwater.

The work will be completed by carefully chosen contractors who will inspect each tree for signs of bat habitation before work starts, and new trees, including oak, rowan, birch and holly, will be planted to replace the beech trees.

In another part of the woodland we will be thinning trees and using some of this wood for firewood to be used on-site during the cooler months.

If you’d like to find out more about this work and how it will help this woodland that we all know and love, please come along to the Gibson Mill open evening at 6.30pm on 12 September. Or you can read our Woodland Management Plan online.