Woodlands are a window to the wider Peak District

National Trust project officer for the High Peak Tom Harman by the new woodlands above Howden reservoir
National Trust project officer for the High Peak Tom Harman by the new woodlands above Howden reservoir

Why preserving trees for future generations is so crucially important.

The trees of the Peak District need your help, says ranger Tom Harman.

“The woodlands around Dovedale are under threat from Ash Dieback disease, whilst in the High Peak we’re trying to plant more trees to bring back the upland clough woodlands that would have been here centuries ago,” he said.

Without the land use practices of the past few hundred years, the Peak District would naturally have a lot more woodland than it does now, and it’ll be a long term process to change that, said Tom, National Trust project officer for the High Peak.

“If you could see time-lapse pictures of the High Peak Moors over the coming decades, we hope you’d see more and more native species like oak, birch, holly, hawthorn, rowan, aspen and alder, spreading up the valleys and into the steep cloughs below the moors.”

There are already examples, where several areas were fenced off in the past to prevent sheep eating young trees. Now little woods of birch, oak and rowan are thriving on the valley sides, with recovering wildflowers like foxgloves and even bluebells growing in the shade of the young trees.

“These woodlands are a window into what we’re trying to do in the wider Peak District,” said Tom Harman.

“As natural broad leaf woodland become established we want to echo that across and up the valleys, and connect all these scattered woodlands together.”

Bob James was part of the team helping new woodlands get established on the Derwent valley sides in the 1980s.

“It’s absolutely tremendous to see these woods here now, and it’s very humbling to think that you’ve been part of it,” he said

Small hillside woods, along with trees and shrubs establishing themselves in the ‘transitional habitats’ on moorland edges, will encourage insects like green hairstreak butterflies and bilberry bumblebees, said ecologist Chris Wood, along with birds like ring ouzels, pied flycatchers, stonechats, nightjars and maybe even the rare black grouse. And trees growing along moorland streams should also increase fish species and help provide homes for scarce water voles.

The National Trust and its volunteers have already planted over 100,000 young trees in the High Peak’s cloughs and valleys in recent years, and this month the charity will launch its ‘Peak District Appeal’ to encourage lovers of the National Park to contribute to the landscape by donating and fundraising for the Peak District’s trees.

The year’s target is to raise £50,000 to support planting and maintaining trees and woodlands, and to help establish a native tree nursery at Longshaw, where young broad leaf species will be nurtured from local seeds ready to be planted out around the Peak District.

“As well as helping us plant trees to benefit visitors and wildlife now, it’s about managing these woodlands for the future,” said Tom Harman

There’ll be an online donation facility (#PeakDistrictAppeal) and there’ll be events throughout the year, starting locally with a ‘coppice day’ at Longshaw on the 18th February, including woodland arts and crafts, and wood working demonstrations.

Tom said a donation of £10 would pay for a new tree sapling, sheep guard and stake, but would also lead to a whole family of trees over time.

“When the conditions are right, a young tree will set seed and you could see over a dozen trees growing in the future from one sapling,” said Tom.

Areas that were fenced to prevent sheep nibbling away young shoots in the past have seen planted saplings growing alongside ‘natural regeneration’ - trees growing after birds have dropped seeds, or when seeds or acorns from the new saplings have taken root.

The clough woodlands have benefits for humans too, said Tom.

“They’ll help to slow water flow off the moors and reduce flash flooding, and as they grow they’ll even help clean pollutants in the air blowing into Sheffield.”

Retired ranger Bob James says the Peak District is the jewel in the crown of Sheffield and Manchester. “People can come out and marvel at such a landscape on their doorstep.

“It’s that fact they really need to take on board, and try to protect for future generations.”