Why biodegradable tubes are springing up on the moors around Sheffield.
“What we’re doing is adding the next generation of trees to the ancient and veteran trees already here,” said Eastern Moors Partnership warden John Mead, glancing round at several hundred small yellow-green tubes that have sprung up this winter by the main Hathersage Road bus route out of Sheffield.
“As a ten year old, I remember helping to plant a ‘Millennium Wood’ for the year 2000,” said Bryony Thomson. “Now those 18 year old trees have started to become woodlands. So you can say that in the time it takes for a child to grow into an adult you’ll have got yourself a young woodland.”
The tube ‘shelters’ are actually biodegradable mini greenhouses, said John, designed to protect the new holly, hawthorn, rowan, oak, birch, willow and alder trees from Houndkirk Moor’s winds and tree-nibbling wildlife (sheep and deer, mainly), before they melt away as the trees gain strength and height.
This winter, John and Bryony and their colleagues and volunteers from the National Trust/RSPB Eastern Moors Partnership have planted 4,000 young native trees over seven hectares (17 acres) of south western Sheffield moorland around Houndkirk.
The aim, said John, is to help join up existing woodlands to provide corridors and new habitats for wildlife, to make our hills and moors more resilient to the effects of climate change and also to help reduce water run off and flooding into Sheffield and north Derbyshire.
There are probably fewer woodlands than there would be naturally on the uplands of the Peak District, he observed. Houndkirk was once a grouse moor, and has seen very heavy sheep grazing in the past, so the woodland restoration work will help restore something of the landscape that used to exist above Sheffield centuries ago.
“Conservation is about restoring and repairing and creating a high natural biodiversity, it’s not necessarily about turning back the clock in a human landscape,” said Bryony. “We want the most robust habitats we can get in the space we have.”
The work will continue next year with another 4,000 trees to be planted, to join more than 20,000 trees already taking root on the edge of the Outdoor City thanks to the Eastern Moors teams working on woodland creation grant schemes on Ramsley, Totley and Houndkirk moors.
Around 100 volunteers have been involved in the work, including secondary age schoolchildren, scout groups, community organisations like the Ride Sheffield mountain bike group and the Eastern Moors Partnership’s own Youth Rangers and ‘Muck In’ day volunteers.
“We couldn’t have done it without them,” Bryony said.
The planting work now stops for the season as bird nesting starts, although volunteers are still welcome on the Muck In days to work on other tasks like path repairs. Bryony added that companies wanting to help can also often be scheduled in on moorland work parties to suit.
The new woodlands will help migrant birds find food and shelter, said Bryony, and will also provide a habitat for animals like roe and red deer.
There are already a handful of wind blasted trees on Houndkirk, often bent into contorted shapes by the elements, said John. Near one of the brooks he found a small twisted rowan tree with split bark that is still thriving and providing a home for insects at over 100 years old. The new woodlands will probably take a similar shape as they grow, and not all the trees will survive. “They have a hard life up here,” he said.
It’s important to think of the landscape in ‘tree time’, he added.
“It is sometimes a leap of faith to think long term. It is really rewarding to plant trees up here, because you realise it’s not just you that will benefit, you know you’re helping to shape what this part of the world will look like for the generations to come.”
“I look at this young woodland now and, although I’ll probably see it grow into a wood, I know that the real benefits of it will come much later when I’m gone,” said Bryony. “It’s nice to think we’re making an investment here for the future.”