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Wind of change blows through the forests

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forester with tree plant

If gardening leaves you with aching joints, then spare a thought for forest workers on the North York Moors.
They have just begun the Herculean task of hand-planting nearly 400,000 trees in just four months as the Forestry Commission’s annual re-planting scheme gets underway.
The new trees, covering 156 hectares (390 acres), will make-up for those harvested for timber and also help broaden wildlife habitats, while also making good looses sustained during a stormy night in 2005.
During that January tempest an estimated one million trees were either toppled or badly damaged across 400 hectares (1000 acres) of land on the Forestry Commission’s estate in North Yorkshire. 
Replacing the trees lost is a gradual process as the terrain has to be left for a few years to allow the brash to die down. 
But such events can be a cloud with a silver lining as it means forest chiefs can speed the transformation of local forests to become more natural looking places of greater value to animals and plants.  
Alan Eves, Forest Management Director for the North York Moors, said:

“Many local woods were planted after the two world wars and in the 1960s when timber production was a priority.  It was a very different world back then with war-time timber shortages still fresh in the memory in a nation with very low tree cover.   But these days we take a much broader approach, with timber production being balanced with wildlife, recreation and landscape objectives. The buzz word is multi-purpose forestry, but I think the US Forest Service puts it rather better preferring the term land of many uses.” 

Most of the new planting this year will be in Langdale Forest, near Pickering, Ingleby Greenhow, near Stokesley, Gilling, near Helmsley, Sneaton, near Whitby and Harwood Dale, north of Scarborough.
Unlike many other aspects of forestry, mechanisation has been slow to arrive, and the best way to plant trees is to use old fashioned elbow-grease. An experienced worker can plant up to 1,000 trees in a day.  Crews work flat-out in all conditions except snow and ice, while keeping one eye on the calendar. Saplings must be planted during the winter when their roots are fairly dormant.  This makes the transition from the nursery into the big-wide world less stressful.  But when the warmer weather arrives, the clock starts ticking on the operation.
Jon Bates, District Forester Operations, added:

“The planting season can be quite daunting, but given reasonable weather, we are confident of meeting our targets.  The new trees not only ensure we have a valuable supply of timber in the future, but also help us improve the landscape. In some areas this involves reverting back to native tree cover or enhancing streamside habitats.”

Half this year’s crop will be Sitka spruce, destined to be harvested from the middle of the century onwards. Trees are cultivated at the Forestry Commission’s nursery in Wykeham Forest, near Scarborough, one of the biggest in the country. About 20 hectares (50 acres) of land will be allowed to regenerate with broadleaf trees like ash, rowan and oak in woods like Oldstead, near Thirsk, and Pry Rigg, near Helmsley, both of which are being restored to their ancient woodland roots. 
But whilst planting may be done the old way, shaping the forests of the future  is very much a 21st century operation.  Design plans looking 50 years ahead are plotted on powerful computers using a GIS (Geographic Information System) programme, which includes a myriad of land management data from  tree species and stocking areas, to conservation, geological and archaeological sites, along with waymarked routes and bike trails.  Nationally important wildlife sites listed include wet spring flushes in Dalby Forest, which are home to England’s only colony of a tiny Ice Age snail.
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The Forestry Commission is the government department responsible in England for protecting, expanding and promoting the sustainable management of woods and forests and increasing their value to society and the environment. Forestry makes a real contribution to sustainable development, providing social and environmental benefits arising from planting and managing attractive, as well as productive, woodlands. 
Richard Darn on 0113 341 3178.  Mobile: 0775 367 0038
Issued on behalf of the Forestry Commission by Richard Darn, COI, Leeds.