We like our trees in this neck of the woods, as last year’s national and local media noticed. Unfortunately, so do an increasing variety of beetles, pathogens and fungi arriving in the UK from all over the world.
Although the Asian beetles and moths afflicting trees in the south east have yet to settle in the Peak District, we now have symptoms of ash dieback in many local trees, while insect attacks and unusual weather events are leading to more cases of ‘oak decline’ and ‘oak dieback’ which leaves some of our oak trees struggling to reproduce.
With this in mind, National Trust ranger Lucy Holmes was standing in a plot of mud last week planning the next 150 years.
“We need to grow more resilient trees, for our changing climate and also in the face of new tree diseases,” she said.
“When you look at the large old trees at Longshaw, it’s nice to know that there are going to be new trees here when the old ones are finally lost.”
Lucy and her team have been spending the winter preparing Longshaw’s new tree nursery, where seeds, berries and acorns collected on site will become new young trees ready for planting out around the estate and in the valleys of the High Peak, where ‘clough woodlands’ of new broad leaf trees will reduce peat erosion, keep water on the moors and provide a haven for moorland wildlife.
Volunteers have been collecting seeds (and acorns) of species like birch, alder, hawthorn, holly, oak and rowan, and as the project progresses, local community groups will help plant and tend the young trees as they grow into ‘whips’.
“Trees take longer to grow up here because we’re so high up, so it might be ten years or more before they can be planted out,” said Lucy.
The nursery is part funded by the Peak District Members Centre along with the National Trust’s Peak District Appeal where donations from Peak District users help to conserve and grow ‘Woods for the Future’.
“The main aim of the nursery here is to engage people in the work we do for trees and woodlands, and the importance of trees in the wider landscape,” said Lucy.
“If we plant trees grown from the seeds of trees that have been successful in this Peak District environment, we know they’ll be resilient, and we won’t be bringing anything into our woodlands that didn’t come from here in the first place.”
(Diseases like ash dieback, and pests like longhorn beetles are believed to have originally arrived in the UK from countries thousands of miles away on imported trees and plants.)
Longshaw is hosting a ‘Woodland Day’ on Sunday February 10 where families can learn woodland crafts like fire-lighting and pole-lathing.
There’ll also be chance to find out more about tree planting and traditional woodland management work.
One learning point for many people is that woodlands come in many shapes and sizes: the open landscape at Longshaw is known as ‘woodland pasture’ but is still woodland, said Lucy.
“Really, a woodland is any area of land where you can see a good number of trees.
“In a woodland pasture, you have space between the trees for animals to graze which means that each tree has space to grow. Here the older trees are quite short but still have a full crown of branches.”
Over time, the fir plantations of Longshaw's Victorian past will be gradually removed, and the nursery will provide new oaks, birches, alders and other native species to enhance and improve the woodland pasture.
On the High Peak, which lost most of its trees through centuries of clearances and high levels of grazing, there is no seed source for new trees to regenerate, so the young trees from Longshaw will be pioneers spreading up the moorland valleys.
The new trees growing at Longshaw will eventually provide homes for woodpeckers, flycatchers and hundreds of other birds, animals and insects, said Lucy.
“But we’re only going to be able to look after these new woodlands if everyone looks after them with us.”