Bid to restore ancient woodland

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A CAMPAIGN to restore the North York Moors National Park’s ancient woodlands aims to see a return of wildflowers including bluebells, primroses, wood anemones and wild daffodils.

The National Park Authority’s new Management Plan has made the restoration of ancient woodlands – areas that have been covered by trees for at least 400 years with some even having links to the last ice age – planted with conifers as a key conservation priority.

The North York Moors contains the highest concentration of such sites in the North of England at it is feared they are at risk of decline or could be lost altogether.

Many of the areas of ancient woodland planted with conifers are coming up to a time when the trees are mature for harvesting as timber.

In addition, many ancient sites have poor access and the resulting lack of management can be detrimental to their condition.

They often support a ground flora consisting of some of the best known and loved of this country’swoodland flowers such as bluebell, primrose, wood anemone and wild daffodil.

Fewer invertebrates such as beetles and moths live in non-native sites because the trees have not evolved here and much less sunlight penetrates the tree canopy.

Most conifer trees cast a much denser shade than native species and thereby suppress plants and shrubs growing at a lower level.

Their needles can also acidify soil in the long-term which will change the type of plant that the area can support.

There is also concern that the longer that an ancient woodland site is covered by conifer trees, the less likely it is to regain some of its original wildlife and landscape value.

Peter Barfoot, The North York Moors National Park Authority’s director of conservation said: “The Management Plan makes it clear that the policy is not anti-conifer.

“The importance of conifer woodland for timber production and recreation is well recognised and nor is the objective necessarily to return all ancient woodland planted with conifers to purely native woodland.

“In many cases, improvements can be achieved through management of existing trees and the development of suitable mixes of species, even including some conifers.

“The National Park Authority is keen to work with woodland owners and their managers to achieve improvements or restoration where possible.

“The authority is able to provide advice and help for managers and owners to obtain Forestry Commission grant for the necessary work.

“Grants are also available direct from the Park Authority in some circumstances.”

Mr Barfoot added there is no compulsion on owners to restore ancient woodlands, however the authority would like to talk to owners and look at the options available.