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Ancient woodland to be taken back to its roots

A 14-year project to restore Yorkshire’s ancient woodland back to its original state has reached its second phase with 63,000 native trees expected  to be planted before 2020.

Since the project began in 2011, non-native trees and invasive weeds, many of which were planted in the twentieth century, have been removed from 10 ancient woodland sites across the region.

Thousands of native trees such as oak, hazel, rowan, alder and holly have also been re-introduced to the historic woodlands, thanks to Yorkshire Water, the Forestry Commission and Natural England.

The work is being undertaken to conserve and enhance the native habitat and wildlife found in these woodlands.  This is because many are in decline due to an increasing presence of non-native trees and harmful invasive weed species.

There is over 220 hectares of ancient woodland on Yorkshire Water’s land, equivalent to the size of 286 football pitches. To date, 75 hectares of it has been enhanced and a further 75 hectares will be restored over the next five years, with the rest of the conservation due to be completed by 2025.

Geoff Lomas, Recreation and Catchment Manager at Yorkshire Water, said: “We have allocated over £1m to invest over the next five years to manage these woodlands. This will help  to create a more resilient woodland that restores original features. The 63,000 new native trees due to be planted will also help to support water quality by better stabilising the soil and stopping it from being washed into rivers and streams.

“We want to ensure that these rare and historic woodlands support a diverse range of plants, animals and insects. To achieve this we must take action to  conserve and re-establish a predominantly native tree population. Currently, we are undertaking ecological assessments of these sites which will inform the best management approach.”

Ancient woodlands are defined as any area which has been under continuous tree cover since at least the 1600s. However, in reality these sites could date back thousands of years to the wild woods which covered much of Yorkshire after the last Ice Age.

As part of the restoration programme, many invasive weeds such as Rhododendron, Japanese Knotweed and Himalayan Balsam have been removed from the ancient woodlands to allow native grasses, flowers and fauna to grow back.

Crispin Thorn, Area Director for the Forestry Commission in Yorkshire, said: “It’s great to work in partnership with Yorkshire Water on this key project to help restore these critically important ancient woodlands. The work to remove damaging invasive species combined with planting a range of native trees will help restore these woodlands to their former glory and make them more resilient for the future. They form part of our cultural heritage and are recognised for their rich wildlife and importance in the wider landscape.”

The ancient woodland restoration activity forms part of Yorkshire Water’s performance commitment to ensure more than 11,000 hectares of its land is carefully conserved and enhanced.

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