A messy forest is a healthy forest

Green Lancaster members at Hardknott Forest.

Nestled at the heart of the Lake District, Hardknott Forest stands as a testament to nature's resilience and the enduring spirit of conservation. Yet, like many natural habitats worldwide, this ancient woodland has faced challenges due to human activity and environmental pressures. However, a remarkable initiative has emerged to restore and rejuvenate Hardknott Forest, aiming to preserve its biodiversity and ecological integrity for generations to come, and we, at Green Lancaster, were fortunate enough to play our part.

On Saturday 9th March, 8:30am, myself and 15 other bright-eyed and eager volunteers embarked on a journey to the heart of the Lake District, with only one goal in mind: to help restore Hardknott Forest - with the added bonus of making new friends and having fun whilst doing so. And all I can say is, that goal sure was achieved! From the moment we stepped out of the coach, we were transported into a whole new environment. Gone were the concrete buildings that make up our beloved Alex square, and instead vast woodlands and fells filled our vision, with the crisp, fresh fragrance of pine needles being a refreshing change (and luckily for me, masked any signs of sweat as we walked around this 630 hectare site). We were greeted by John and Jess, two of the site officers for Hardknott Forest, who gave us a tour of the site whilst discussing the current landscape and their work to increase biodiversity in the area. In particular, emphasis was placed on increasing ground-levels of flora through wildflower seeding, and the importance of native tree growth in contributing to enhanced biodiversity was soon made evident as we arrived at our allocated area of work for the day.

At this location, the distribution of Sitka Spruce trees, non-native to the UK (but originating from North America), was widespread, and without the 'Restoring Hardknott Forest' initiative, would have dominated the landscape: preventing the growth and re-seeding of native trees, such as willow, rowan, oak, birch and holly - which are more ecologically beneficial for this environment. Therefore, armed with silky saws and loppers, we set to work removing these non-native trees (likened to as "weeds" by John) and after a few hours, filled with many breaks, laughs and pictures (of course!), the Sitka Spruce trees were certainly looking a lot more sparse! For maximum ecological benefit, the Sitka Spruce trees that were cut down were left as they were on the ground - thus acting as 'deadwood', thereby mimicking natural woodland processes, allowing vital nutrients and carbon to be returned to the soil.

After a very gratifying day of being outdoors, with the sun still shining and the birds still chirping, everyone's spirits were high, which made for a lovely walk back to our coach. All in all, I had a thoroughly enjoyable day out, and I think I can speak for the rest of us when I say there is no better feeling than getting involved in the great outdoors, to create such a positive impact, surrounded by lovely like-minded people.

Thank you for reading this article: if you've made it this far you should definitely consider getting involved with Green Lancaster by joining our community teams channel, we have a whole host of upcoming events and would love to see you there!

- Muneebah (Green Lancaster Student Leader)

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