The proportion of the Dales classed as woodland is only around 4% (of which half is conifer plantations), compared to about 9% in England as a whole). It is acknowledged that an increase in tree cover would bring various benefits: apart from enhancing the landscape character of the Dales, woodland contributes to biodiversity, carbon capture and flood reduction. Contact with nature, including woodland, also improves the feeling of health and well-being and contributes to the economy.
The Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority published a Dales Woodland Strategy in 1995, with the most recent update in 2013. During the intervening period around 1,300 hectares of new broadleafed woodland have been planted, and much existing woodland has been brought into positive management. The most recent National Park Management Plan continues to support the planting of new woodlands, and proposals for a “Northern Forest” could bring important developments.
In recent years several tree diseases have been identified which could result in a widespread loss of trees. About 60% of the Park’s tree stock is Ash, and the likely loss of this species through Chalara dieback will have a very significant effect on the landscape. It is important to protect the tree cover and to seek new and resistant species to replace the losses.
Large areas of commercial forestry were planted in the Dales in the 1960s and 1970s. These forests are now mature, and their felling leads to problems over extraction routes and questions about appropriate replanting. It has been found in recent times that conifer woodland provides important habitat for red squirrels and black grouse, and the protection of these species is now being promoted.
- We believe that the varying amounts of tree cover in the Yorkshire Dales are an important component of the beauty of the landscape and the natural and cultural history of the area.
- We recognize that research has shown that strategic planting and careful management of new mixed woodland and hedges has benefits for upland farming (providing shelter for stock and timber for on-farm uses), flood management (reducing water run-off), biodiversity (increasing the quantity and range of wildlife), and carbon-capture. We support plans to increase the overall area of tree cover in appropriate locations. We would welcome the creation of more wood pasture, which can combine the benefits of woodland with a rich ground flora.
- We generally support the comprehensive advice on woodland siting and design set out in the Yorkshire Dales NPA’s Woodland Siting and Design Guide and Nidderdale AONB’s Woodland Opportunities plan.
- We recognise that fencing and tree guards are necessary in the establishment of new woodland, but there is a need for less unsightly forms and for their removal when they have become unnecessary.
- We are concerned about threats posed by tree diseases identified in the Dales. We believe that priority should be given to biosecurity in woodlands. All new plantings of saplings and young trees in existing woodland, newly created woodland, or open parkland and wood pasture should only use plants sourced from seed with a documented provenance and verifiable history of being grown in mainland Britain.
- We regret the large-scale commercial planting of conifer forests which occurred in the 1960s and 1970s, radically altering the open fell landscape in parts of the Dales. We recognize however that this is a situation we inherited when the Society was formed, and we will concentrate on pressing for the most beneficial management of the forests and for the most appropriate felling and replanting.
- We welcome the fact that the Forestry Commission has dedicated its own forests as open access areas under the Countryside & Rights of Way Act, and we believe there should be wider access rights to forests and woodland.
What we will do
- We will support measures to conserve and enhance the woodland in the Dales. We will also support projects which will increase the amounts of native woodland, taking account of appropriate siting and design.
- We will encourage the active management of woodlands, especially ancient and semi-natural woodlands, for their multiple benefits.
- We will seek to play a part in the Dales Woodland Forum.
- We will promote biosecurity in woodlands in the Dales by urging the use of seeds and plants with a verifiable local provenance.
- We will support the extension of funding for the planting of hedges and mixed woodland.
- We will support measures to encourage biodiversity in woodland and forests, especially projects to increase and protect the red squirrel and the dormouse, sensitive management of deer, and non-commercial planting of native species in the uplands.
- We will support moves to make more woodlands available for public access – for walking, riding, cycling, nature study and other forms of quiet non-motorised recreation.
- We will only support planting of new woodland on open access land if access is protected in perpetuity by dedication under the CRoW Act prior to planting taking place.
- We will oppose further large-scale planting of monoculture conifer forests and will seek to ensure that existing forests are managed in ways that bring multiple benefits, in particular to enhance biodiversity and landscape character and provide access for recreation.
- When forests are to be felled, we will press for extraction routes which are the least disruptive to the landscape and to both local residents and visitors. In particular, we will urge that as far as possible timber is transported by rail rather than by road.
- When felled forests are to be replanted, we will press for plans which achieve a range of benefits, including not only timber or wood-fuel production, but also enhancement of biodiversity and public access, carbon storage, and improvements to water quality and water flow. We will seek phased replanting, to produce a wider range of age-groups within the forests, and substantial proportions of broadleaved trees rather than conifer monoculture. We will urge the developments of wider glades, spaces around water-courses, and other features which will improve biodiversity and provide more attractive access routes. We will also seek changes in the outline of the planted areas which fit more naturally into the landform and are less sharp and jarring in the landscape.
- We recognise the need for protective sleeves around saplings, but will support efforts to use biodegradable forms and to remove them when no longer needed.
- We will seek to raise awareness of the issues with our members and the public, particularly through the Yorkshire Dales Review.
Created by Laurence Parkin, this terrific “infographic” encapsulates our campaign for more trees in the Dales, but not more plastic!
First published in the 150th anniversary edition of the Yorkshire Dales Review, the illustration can be downloaded (below) for sharing.
The key messages are relevant to planting anywhere, not just in the Dales. With more treeplanting nationally mooted as part of the coronavirus pandemic “green recovery” we hope alternatives ways of planting trees can be explored, avoiding the use of single use plastic where possible.