Taking a look around Burbage and the conservation work going on there.
“What we had here was a series of people camping and partying and lighting fires in a wood that actually wants to set itself on fire, in the middle of a moor.”
“In summer, that was a complete liability,” said Angus Hunter.
That wood is no more, apart from a few remaining fir trees forming windbreaks and owl roosting sites and red deer hideouts.
“What we’re doing now is getting rid of that liability and gaining a natural landscape,” said Angus.
The Burbage valley is blooming. Most of the old plantation has now gone and Sheffield council biodiversity officer and community forester Angus is delighted.
“It’s brilliant. It’s marvellous, it’s done far better than I thought, ” he enthused, surrounded by acres of open moorland rapidly finding a foothold in what used to be a sterile forestry plantation set up in the 1970s after a plan to turn the valley into a reservoir was overturned.
Lodgepole pine, from California, needs periodic forest fires for its cones to germinate, and the tree’s inflammable resin meant that fire was a constant risk as the pines matured. The close planting also meant that the plantation’s lodgepoles and Japanese larches fared badly, with a few native Scots pines sometimes doing rather better.
A solution was found when a Nature Improvement Area grant was awarded to Sheffield Council and the National Trust (who own and manage the valley along with the Eastern Moors Partnership of the National Trust and the RSPB) and much of the plantation was felled three years ago.
Since then teams of rangers, foresters and volunteers have planted thousands of native trees from species which would have flourished in the valley thousands of years ago: 20,000 ‘whips’ were planted straight after the felling, with small saplings of native alder, birch, oak and willow now establishing themselves, along with natural regeneration of trees like rowan, hawthorn and holly thanks to berries dropped by birds.
Thousands of acorns were planted over the last winter, by environmental conservation students from Sheffield College braving hailstorms to plant new oak trees.
“To experience something like Burbage Moor is very exciting and motivating for the students, it enriches their personal experience of nature,” said tutor Klaus Schmidtke.
The old plantation area is fenced from sheep and cattle, but humans can still access the new (ancient) landscape. Angus and team are felling unstable remaining plantation trees, and he warns visitors to keep clear of the pine woods for their own safety.
The council’s community forestry teams have continued their work over difficult financial times, with 10,000 trees being planted around the city this winter, along with 30,000 forestry firs and native broadleaf trees going in at Redmires, 300 hazel whips in Ecclesall Woods and 1,000 more alder and willow soon to arrive at Burbage.
The Outdoor City’s community forestry programme has been going on for years, has won awards and is completely separate from other local tree related issues often in the news, noted Angus pointedly. His colleagues are also keen to add that there are now eight trees per person in Sheffield, whereas there’s less than one for every Londoner.
The wildlife of Burbage cares little for arboreal public relations, but is thriving. Nocturnal nightjars have returned to nest, joined by snipe, woodcock and long eared owls. Rare cuckoos have also arrived, to the alarm of the valley’s meadow pipits.
And the new ponds, bogs, and ‘windrows’ of logs and branches have encouraged lizards, frogs and newts and will probably soon bring in adders, Angus said, and as long as humans (and dogs) don’t get too close to them, the rare water vole is also still surviving along the Burbage brook.
“It’s now a mixed mosaic of habitats, which is what wildlife needs,” said Angus.
The clearing has even allowed tufts of heather to bloom again after resting as seed under the pine trees for nearly 50 years, which along with other moorland plants like cloudberry and bilberrry, are now attracting bees and insects to Burbage.
“Quite a few of the students are looking forward to coming back in a few years to see what is growing and how it’s developing into a woodland,” said Klaus Schmidtke. “Maybe they’ll come with their own children?”