Green Lancaster’s Spring Trip to Hardknott Forest

The Green Lancaster team

At the end of Lent term, Emily and Eve from the Green Lancaster team took 20 students on the second ECOWoods visit of this year to Restoring Hardknott Forest. It is an ambitious project in the Lake District in partnership with Forestry England and the University of Leeds, restoring a former conifer plantation back into 630 hectares of native woodland and other wildlife-rich habitats such as wildflower meadows. On their camera traps, they have already spotted an increase in species such as red squirrels, woodpeckers, otters and more!

At our last visit back in December we removed non-native Sitka spruce and brought some back to campus to make festive decorations. This time we focussed on planting! Only a small amount of tree planting is needed at Restoring Harknott Forest, as there is still a good seed source in the ground and native trees come back by themselves once spruce trees (from the plantation) are removed! Whilst most of the tree regrowth is self-seeded, the project boosts regeneration by carrying out some planting.

We met the project officers and facilitators John and Jess who talked us through the project and gave us a tour through the beautiful valley to the site we would be working on. And as we wandered through the snow covered slopes we spotted numerous deer tracks and enjoyed the amazing views over the hills.

Once at the site, the first task of the day (after a lunch break!) was to take 1-2 metre-long cuttings of willow from the existing willow trees around us. Willow is commonly propagated as it is highly resilient and cut branched have the capacity to sprout new roots and become whole new trees. We took care not to remove too much from one tree, and selected branches which had a fork at the base. The cuttings were carried to a natural clearing in the trees known as a ‘glade’ where we dug shallow holes in the ground to insert the cuttings into. The fork at the base of the cutting provides stability so the new tree will stay as upright as possible while it grows. Planting such large cuttings of willow is experimental as the project has not tried it yet. However, being taller, they provide the benefit of being out of range or deer browsing.

At the second site we cut straight branches of willow and trimmed each branch down into numerous ‘willow pegs’ which are much smaller cuttings of around thirty centimetres. Willow pegs are more commonly used for planting. We planted all our pegs in another glade which had very boggy wet soil – an environment that willow thrives in – taking care to put the pegs into the ground the right way up! We took a moment to look over all our hard work and imagined how the clearing would become full of native trees in the coming years, and then headed back down the valley to our coach.

Find out more about Restoring Hardknott Forest on their website, this leaflet and their Instagram.

Keep an eye out for when we announce our summer term events! No prior experience is required and we can always lend equipment such as wellies and waterproofs, plus transport is always provided for free.

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