Opportunities for Dales farmers to plant and manage woodland

Trees showing autumn colour on Abbotside in Wensleydale. Photo: YDNPA.

The national park with the least woodland coverage of England’s ten most highly protected areas has unveiled a ten-year plan to plant trees across an area spanning 11,212 football pitches.

The strategy for the Yorkshire Dales comes two months after Friends of the Earth revealed how just 4.1 per cent of the national park is covered in trees compared with 4.5 per cent of London.

The campaign group said the Yorkshire Dales had potential for 28 per cent tree coverage and accused England’s national parks – all of which had at least double the tree coverage of the Yorkshire Dales – of not rising to the challenge of the climate and nature crisis.

A meeting of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority heard its woodland strategy for the last 25 years had seen it working with farmers and landowners to plant about 2,220 hectares of trees, but a massive acceleration of tree planting was now planned.

By 2030 the authority aims to create 6,000 hectares of woodland habitats, with priority given to projects that strengthen habitat networks, increase carbon storage and help to reduce flooding.

At 600 hectares a year, the ambition would meet two per cent of the Government’s commitment to create 30,000 hectares of trees a year in its recently-published ten point plan for a green industrial revolution.

It also aims to ensure 75 per cent of all woodland including ancient semi natural woodland, plantation ancient woodland and scrub is brought into positive management, as well as planting 6,000 individual or small groups of field trees.

While concerns have previously been raised over potentially harming the national park’s unique vistas by covering them in trees, members were told the forum that had developed the ambition had entirely compatible with retaining a primarily agricultural landscape.

The meeting was told it was likely that increasing woodland cover would play an important role in helping to sustain farm businesses, by providing new sources of revenue to improve viability, and in providing shelter for livestock as the climate changes.

Ahead of approving the strategy, members said the strategy represented an enormous increase, but it was questioned whether the target was ambitious enough given the authority’s stated aim to lead efforts to tackle climate change. The 6,000 hectares target will only take the total woodland cover up to only seven per cent of the park’s area – still less than any other national park.

Ian McPherson, the authority’s natural environment champion, said: “The new strategy acknowledges the role that existing conifer plantations play within the Dales and careful management of them will be key to survival of the native red squirrel. Creating further conifer plantations could be possible but only when they provide tangible benefits to the natural beauty, wildlife, and cultural heritage of the national park.”