It’s 'Hardknott' to love it: Green Lancaster’s latest ECOWoods Field Trip

Restoring Hardknott Forrest

With Michaelmas Term coming to a close, Green Lancaster led a final field trip before the holiday season to Restoring Hardknott Forest, an exciting ecological restoration project in the Lake District, converting a conifer plantation back into a more balanced ecosystem of native woodland and wildlife.

On Saturday 3rd December, Lea & Eve from the Green Lancaster Team ventured into the Lake District with a group of 20 volunteers to Hardknott Forest in Duddon Valley as part of our ECOWoods project.

Restoring Hardknott Forest is an ecological restoration project in partnership with Forestry England and the University of Leeds. The project is restoring a large 600-hectare conifer plantation back into native woodland and habitats. This will support an ecosystem of native wildlife (such as red squirrels and woodpeckers) as the plantation is converted back into a more natural, balanced habitat!

We spent the day with project officer and facilitator John and Jess, and learned a lot about the importance of the work being done here. In the morning we had a tour around the site, with the sun shining beautifully on the trees and surrounding fells. We saw an aspen which appeared to be a few hundred small trees but is actually considered to be a single organism due to the extensive interconnected root system! Then we stood in awe under some huge old oak trees that constitute our precious temperate rain forests. Wildflower meadows are also being regenerated and managed around the site with butterfly surveying. Butterflies are a great indicator species as they are highly sensitive to small changes in environmental conditions. Therefore positive changes in butterfly species and populations provide evidence that the landscape is benefiting from ecological restoration.

Then we had lunch surrounded by an amazing 360° view of the valley. John and Jess showed us some exciting photos from their camera traps, including otters, red squirrels, jays and woodpeckers (and many more!). Native species such as these will begin to appear more and more as their habitat is restored to its natural state.

After lunch we got to work. We learned how to remove non-native spruce trees in such a way that they cannot grow back again. The team achieved a huge amount in just two hours! It was exciting to see the difference our efforts made. Removing these trees allowed much more light through the canopy to reach native tree species such as willows, which will now thrive and grow much better. Interestingly, the project does not need to do much tree planting on the site as the native tree species tend to come back on their own once the space has been cleared for them.

Some of the felled spruce was brought back to campus, and students used it to create beautiful festive wreaths and other decorations at our Green Lancaster tent as part of the Students’ Union Christmas Market in week 9.

Would you like to join us for a field trip next term? No experience required and we can lend equipment such as wellies and waterproofs. Plus transport is always provided. Keep your eyes peeled for when we release the events! Visit the Green Lancaster events feed on our website, sign up for our newsletter and don’t hesitate to follow us on Facebook or Instagram.

Find out more about Restoring Hardknott Forest on the University of Leeds’ website and Forestry England’s leaflet.

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