Restoring Harknott Forest: the Lakes’ largest woodland?

Image shows horizon over Hardknott Forest

On Saturday 19th March, Green Lancaster team and volunteers had the pleasure of learning more about and volunteering for the Restoring Harknott Forest Project in the upper Duddon Valley in the Lake District as part of our ECOWild field trips. We were given a tour by project facilitators Jess and John, before spending the afternoon removing non-native conifers.

Currently, Hardknott forest is one of the largest former commercial conifer plantations in the Lake District at approximately 600 ha. The Restoring Hardknott Forest project – a partnership between Forestry England and the University of Leeds – aims to remove non-native Sitka spruce, offering a unique opportunity to create the largest semi-natural woodland in the Lake District!

We began our tour by crossing Birks Bridge where crystal clear, blue-green water gushes over a series of waterfalls. Shortly we found ourselves in an oak woodland, a rare habitat valued by a wide range of species. In the next month, pied flycatcher and redstart will be arriving to these woodlands after spending the winter in West Africa.

The project aims to restore native woodlands with trees such as birch, aspen, and oak. This will allow British wildlife to flourish and biodiversity to increase. During our visit we spotted a peregrine falcon and tadpoles!

After walking further up the valley, the delightfully sunny day with clear blue skies allowed us to admire glorious views over the Lake District fells whilst having lunch. Looking at these surroundings, we reflected on how anthropogenic changes had impacted the landscape and how it would look different if natural species were allowed to thrive.

With this in mind, volunteers eagerly began their task of removing non-native Sitka spruce. These were planted in the 1930s after timber shortages during the First World War. Whilst they provide good wood due to growing fast and straight, they do not benefit biodiversity as much as native trees, due to the fact that native British wildlife did not evolve alongside them. Moreover, their dense canopies block out sunlight and prevent our native trees and ground flora from growing.

We finished the day by walking back to the coach and giving the pruning saws and loppers a good clean. After thanking Jess and John for the exciting and educational experience, we were on our way back to Lancaster, making our way down tiny Lake District roads.

Join us on future ECOWild trips to learn about environmental issues and volunteer on exciting conservation projects! Head over to the events section of our website and keep an eye out for upcoming Summer Term trips to be released. You can also find out about regular volunteering days at Hardknott forest on the Forestry England website.

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