A small army of hardy workers will venture deep into local forests over coming months in a race against time to plant two million trees – all by hand!
That’s the Herculean task facing Forestry Commission chiefs as they seek to replace trees felled for timber and broaden wildlife habitats.
Over 700 hectares of land will be replanted, mainly in Kielder Forest, but also in Hamsterley Forest, near Bishop Auckland, and parts of Rothbury Forest.
In Hamsterley and nearby Slaley Forest, 130,000 trees will be planted, including 25,000 broadleaves to diversify habitats, including rowan, birch and alder.
But the clock is ticking as trees must be planted before the weather gets too warm and sapling roots become active – that would stress young trees during their relocation from the nursery to the wood. Equally, it’s impossible to plant when the ground is frozen. Chris Slater from the Forestry Commission explained:
“Unlike many aspects of forestry, tree planting has not been mechanised, so it’s all done by hand. A skilled operator can plant over 1,000 trees per day and given the size of the job and limited time that’s just as well. The annual planting programme is vital to ensure that our woods continue to produce a sustainable supply of timber well into the future.”
A wider variety of tree species are being planted to ensure forests are more resilient to climate change and the growing problem of tree diseases. Sitka spruce will continue to be the commercial mainstay at Kielder – best suited to wet ground conditions – but elsewhere, where conditions will allow, new species are being trialled, including Wellingtonia, otherwise known as the Giant sequoia.
North East forests are crucial to the UK – Kielder alone produces 25% of all the timber grown in England and provides a haven for endangered wildlife like red squirrels and many birds of prey. Chris Slater adds:
“Long term planning is vital so we can continue to provide a reliable source of sustainably grown timber, broaden wildlife habitats and increase recreational opportunities.”