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Planting trees to create healthy woodlands

Two rangers planting trees on a steep sided hill amongst existing trees. Tree guards are visible showing where they have already planted.
Rangers tree planting in the woodlands above Dovedale | © National Trust Images/Annapurna Mellor

In woodlands in the limestone ravines above the National Nature Reserve of Dovedale, and in surrounding areas of the White Peak, rangers and volunteers have been busy planting trees. This is part of a project to tackle the effects of ash dieback and create healthy woodlands for the future.

Planting trees in the White Peak

Rangers and volunteers are following up the removal of diseased ash trees, affected by ash dieback, in the steep sided banks and ravines of the White Peak, by planting a mix of native woodland tree species. This includes trees that will form a canopy such as oak, birch and field maple, along with large-leaved and small-leaf lime. They have also planted species which prefer low light under the canopy and don’t grow as tall, but are a vital part of a healthy woodland, such as hazel, dog wood and guelder rose, along with a few yew trees.

As well as planting trees, the team has made 11 hectares of space for trees to set seed and regenerate naturally.

Looking after woodlands for nature, climate and people

“Trees and woodlands are vital for our ecosystem, for biodiversity and to capture carbon. With 80% of the woodland, we care for in this area containing ash, it was a priority to carry out this project,” said Andrew Gibbs, Area Ranger for the National Trust in the White Peak.

He explained, “our aim is to make our woodlands more resilient, at the same time as providing the perfect place for native plants, insects, birds, and animals to thrive. A crucial part of that project is making space for different tree species to grow, replacing those lost to the fungal disease affecting ash trees across the world and adding diversity to the woodland.”

A ranger and volunteer working together to plant trees on a steep hill in woodland
A ranger and volunteer planting trees near Dovedale | © National Trust Images/Annapurna Mellor

Creating healthy woodland

The team are also doing a range of other tasks to improve the health of the woodland. This includes coppicing, which involves felling certain species of trees at their base to create a ‘stool’ where new shoots will grow. This helps to improve the health and biodiversity of the woodland by opening it up to the sunlight and allowing a wider range of plants to flourish.

In addition, to create the right conditions for vital fungi and insects to live and play their role in the ecosystem of the woodland, rangers have been ring barking a few selected trees. This process involves removing a circle of bark from a tree trunk which increases the amount of standing dead wood. This is important to mimic a natural process which would occur in woodlands with good age and species diversity.

Where trees have been cleared, logs and branches have been left to create places that make perfect places for small mammals, birds and insects to live. Wildlife boxes for birds, bats and dormice have also been installed to make the woodlands of the White Peak a welcome place to call home for these creatures.

A close-up image of a native hazel dormouse that is ginger in colour and has large, round jet-black eyes
A native hazel dormouse | © Kerstin Hinze
Konik ponies on Bakers Fen at Wicken Fen National Nature Reserve, Cambridgeshire

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