A Green Recovery at Wallington

A visualisation of what the Delf Burn could look like after nature recovery work

In November 2020, Wallington was successful in its bid for funding from the DEFRA Green Recovery Challenge Fund. The aim of the fund is to support projects that are ready to deliver and focus on nature restoration, nature-based solutions and connecting people with nature.

What is the Green Recovery Challenge Fund?

The Green Recovery Challenge Fund is a short-term, competitive fund to kickstart the process of nature recovery, start to address the climate crisis and help create and retain thousands of green jobs. The £40 million fund has been developed by Defra and its arm’s-length bodies, including Natural England, Forestry Commission, Environment Agency and others. The National Lottery Heritage Fund is distributing and monitoring this government money.

The 'Historic Landscapes' programme has been awarded £3.85 million by Defra as part of the Green Recovery Challenge Fund. The funding will kickstart a programme of work, worth over £4.7 million, to enhance nature and start to combat the effects of climate change in five of the most significant historic landscapes in our care. 

This image is what the landscape looks like today on part of the estate before the project gets underway. The hero image at the top of this page is a visualisation of what it could look after we make the start on a green recovery for nature.

An image of the Delf Burn as it looks today
An image of the Delf Burn as it looks today
An image of the Delf Burn as it looks today

Wallington’s working towards a Green Recovery - The Living Hartburn

Through the 'Historic Landscapes' programme, Wallington is set to benefit from over £800,000 of funding. Centred in the Hart Burn Catchment, these vital funds will allow us to undertake major river enhancements works including fencing and major hedgerow and woodland creation, enabling habitat and species restoration. The work will see significant habitat gains leading to increased nature connectivity and enhanced environmental farming practices. It will draw on work themes identified within Wallington’s Estate Management Plan (2019). The aim is to plant 7.3km of hedgerows and 75,000 trees and restore 50km of waterways all along the river corridors that will enable natural processes to prevail.

Wallington’s Vision  

Over the next 50 years, we will work with our partners to create rich and healthy spaces for nature, and in doing so, reverse the decline in wildlife and their habitats. We are working to create places where people and nature can thrive together.  

Gallows Hill Farm from above. Part of the 20 sq/mile Wallington estate
Gallows Hill Farm from above. Part of the 20 sq/mile Wallington estate
Gallows Hill Farm from above. Part of the 20 sq/mile Wallington estate

What will happen at Wallington as part of the Green Recovery Challenge Fund?

Woodlands creation – Wallington is going to plant 75,000 trees to create 12ha of new deciduous woodland, with the ambition to plant 1 million trees over the next 10 years. This will play a significant role in the National Trust ambition to plant 20m by 2030.

In doing so, we are increasing carbon storage, benefiting many species including the red squirrel, woodland birds, pine martins and butterflies. We will be creating woodland edges, which are of huge significance as most wildlife is adapted to living along these edges where there is more sunlight. We will be planting next to existing woodlands, creating larger blocks for wildlife movement and in turn making them more robust in offering protection to the species living there. In creating and managing woodlands, we are improving water quality and slowing down the flow of the river where woodlands are created within the river corridor.  

Hedgerow creation – We will be planting 18,000 hedgerow trees creating 7.3km of hedgerow, linking small and isolated enabling key animal species to move around more freely. Almost all our native mammals have been recorded as being supported by hedgerows, which are home to over 500 plant species, 60 species of nesting bird and many hundreds of invertebrates. 

Peatlands restoration – this is absolutely vital for carbon storage. Peatlands also slow the flow of water, clean the water and create habitats for specialist birds such as curlew, snipe and lapwing. They also create habitats for other species including the large heath butterfly. We already have a colony at Greenleighton on the estate, so we can further support their numbers and spread them further afield through restoring peatlands. Wallington has a significant part to play in achieving our charity’s ambition of becoming carbon neutral by 2030. 

Restoration of riverside habitats – we will be working along 6.5km of burns, planting trees along the stream edges creating a better environment for the native white-clawed crayfish, (a species that is associated with good quality) dippers, water vole and fish. This will also slow the flow of water to alleviate flooding. We will erect fencing to exclude stock at certain times of the year to allow better bankside vegetation and wildflowers to establish. We will be commissioning a feasibility study on the introduction of beavers and we’re also looking at low lying areas becoming wetlands, redistributing of water along the flood plain. 

Engaging and inspiring our supporters – we will be highlighting the health and well-being benefits to people of this work and deepening their connection with nature giving them freedom to explore, learn and discover. We will empower people to make changes to their own spaces, however small, and to act on their own doorsteps. 

How LiDAR is shining a light on Wallington’s cultural landscape to inform tree planting plans

It's always been a desire to use LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) to survey this huge estate and in February 2021, we commissioned Blue Sky International Ltd to do just that. As the biggest LiDAR survey conducted by the National Trust to date, across 57 square kilometres of the 5,431 hectare (13,420 acre) estate, we were hopeful for some useful insights into where to fulfil the huge planting ambitions as well as some exciting archaeological discoveries and weren’t disappointed.

Funded by the Government’s Green Recovery Challenge Fund, this £800,000 project has used LiDAR technology to unearth fascinating insights into farming practices and other archaeological aspects of the landscape dating back to 2,000BC with these areas to be conserved and protected while informing new areas for tree planting, hedgerow creation and river management.

LiDAR uses the pulse from a laser to collect precise measurements between a light aircraft as it flies over the landscape and the ground to produce a minutely detailed map of the ground surface.

Piecing together the historic landscape at Wallington using LiDAR and historic archives
Piecing together the historic landscape at Wallington using LiDAR and historic archives
Piecing together the historic landscape at Wallington using LiDAR and historic archives

The results are so detailed that they can often reveal features that are not readily discernible to the naked eye allowing researchers to penetrate vegetation cover to identify features concealed by trees and undergrowth.  It can also be used to map ecological features like water courses.

The initial analysis, which has concentrated on the area where the majority of the new trees are due to be planted, has revealed fascinating details of Wallington’s archaeology dating from 2,000BC to 1,900AD including traces of historic, healthy woodlands dating from the mid-eighteenth century, which were cleared and not replanted.

This information is helping the team make critical decisions on where new trees and hedgerows should go, new fences erected and site access points to minimise the impact on the landscape’s archaeology.  By basing new planting plans on historic planting schemes, the team is also aiming to create even more habitat benefit as well as restoring lost features of the historic environment. 

Over 120 new archaeological features have also been discovered, covering more than 85 per cent of the ground surface in some areas, reflecting the estate’s agricultural history. Findings of particular interest include early farming systems, which were cast aside in the 18th Century by the previous owner, Sir Walter Blackett’s, desire to make way for “rational” and efficient farming. These include at least half a dozen different forms of ‘ridge and furrow’ cultivation, which together with the estate’s documentary record will help with dating other features in the landscape such as the field boundaries - the Northumberland ‘cast’ field banks – stone walled to each side.

Previously recognised Iron Age ‘camps’, like mini-hillforts, estimated as dating from the centuries immediately prior to the Roman invasion, have been surveyed with greater precision, to reveal more eroded outlying features, possible annexes to the main enclosures, linear features potentially of adjoining fields or enclosures, and even suspected prehistoric pathways.

Other discoveries include numerous squarer features of a similar type believed to date from Roman times, and previously unknown landmarks include a 17th Century recreational landscape – which would have been an important part of the whole estate aesthetic, with a large artificial water feature, surrounding walk and possibly associated terraced gardening set in a small hunting park.

Analysing all the survey results will take much time but with each hour spent studying them, we’re finding more and more out about the past of this vast estate and importantly, using it to determine the future plans for large, landscape scale nature recovery.

Where is the GRCF project now?

We’re now over half way through the project and work across the 4 farms is well underway.  

The big news is that the 75,000 trees have been ordered and will be arriving in November and December ready for the largest mass tree planting ever undertaken by the National Trust over the winter months. With help of staff, volunteers, local community groups, schools and contractors, it will be a mammoth effort to get these in the ground.

The two apprentice rangers, Rosie and Nick both funded by the Green Recovery Challenge Fund joined the Wallington team in March 2021 and really hit the ground running. They’re out and about every day learning many new practical skills, getting to grips with how to design and manage large scale nature recovery plans, getting hands on with the field work and spending time on the academic side of their apprenticeship too with college work.

West End Refugee Service with a ranger on an engagement day at Wallington
West End Refugee Service with a ranger on an engagement day at Wallington
West End Refugee Service with a ranger on an engagement day at Wallington

The Engagement programme has started and we’ve been working with the West End Refugee service on some engagement days with the Countryside Team, where the group have been learning about the species that live at Wallington and finding out how to identify them. The team have also been teaching the group about woodland management including tree felling, and they have been hands on helping out the Rangers. You may have seen pop up displays on property over the summer months, where visitors have been able to chat with the team about the GRCF to find out all about

13km of fencing has already gone in along boundary lines and waterways with the principle being to keep livestock away from the waters edge and to protect the new hedgerow planting when it goes in. The total length of fencing to be erected is 22km so it’s great to be so far into this target already.

What’s to come before the end of 2021?

The project team are now looking into the set-up of solar powered water pump systems to support livestock watering across 14 sites.

As the time for planting draws closer, it’s time to develop detailed planting plans for each woodland compartment including which species are to go where. Keep an eye out for updates on the tree planting which is due to early December.

As we’ve said, the fencing is going in at a great rate so we’ll be managing this through to it’s completion, currently to be at the end of October.

Engagement programme plans will really be ramping up as we look to get different groups hands on and fully immersed in the project. Filming for the engagement film begins early October and will continue in December. Once completed, this will be used on property, on the property website and on social media channels to bring the story of the project, the people behind it and why it’s just important that we’re doing this work now to life.

Film crew with Countryside Manager, Paul
Film crew with Countryside Manager, Paul
Film crew with Countryside Manager, Paul