A large-scale project to create a wilder, woodier and wetter landscape is underway in north Devon with the National Trust planting over 100,000 trees this winter to re-establish approximately 50 hectares (123 acres) of temperate rainforest, one of the UK’s most endangered habitats, and other wooded habitats.
The planting will take place across three sites, with 50,000 trees to be planted at Arlington Court, 38,000 on Exmoor and 20,000 at Woolacombe/Hartland, with more planting to follow in the coming years.
Temperate rainforests, also known as Atlantic or Celtic rainforests, are characterised by their consistently wet climate, making them the perfect home for a unique variety of rare ferns, mosses, liverworts, lichens and other wildlife including pine martens, pied flycatchers and stoats. They are also a key player in protecting both the UK’s biodiversity and helping to tackle climate change.
Over the centuries however, the once expansive temperate rainforest, which used to run the length of the western seaboard of the UK, has deteriorated largely due to air pollution, invasive species and diseases such as ash dieback.
John Deakin, Head of Trees and Woodlands at the National Trust said, “Temperate rainforests used to be expansive wooded habitats along the western seaboard of the UK, but now all that’s left are fragments, covering only one per cent of Britain and limited to small patches in Devon, Cornwall, North and West Wales, Cumbria, the West of Scotland and parts of Northern Ireland.
“As a result, the rare specialist plants that depend on this habitat now desperately cling to the remaining fragments for survival, with some of the woodlands we care for in north Devon containing nearly the entire global population of some of these species, such as the Devon Whitebeam. Without urgent action, these unique plants could soon be facing extinction.”
John continued, “With our work at the sites at Arlington, Woolacombe and on Exmoor, we are working on expansion, rather than just preservation. This is important because the conditions many of these rare plants thrive in are not necessarily conducive to disturbance, which makes regeneration tricky. But by planting on the edges of these existing woodlands, we can ease the pressure caused to the existing delicate vegetation and instead help the woodlands evolve outward for the future.”
As well as promoting temperate rainforests, the planting also plays an important role in improving access to nature for local communities.
At the Arlington estate, tree planting is one part of a larger vision of a future inspired by Miss Rosalie Chichester who bequeathed Arlington to the National Trust in 1949, after more than 500 years of family ownership.
Bryony Wilde, Project Manager for the National Trust at Arlington Court said, “Rosalie’s main ‘wish’ for Arlington was for it to be an estate for nature and people. Through this tree planting, we’re helping to create a living landscape where both nature and people can thrive. These trees will not only provide a habitat for wildlife but also fix carbon into the soil, purify air and water, and provide a place for people to enjoy.
“Simple grassland fields with little nature value are now be transformed into a dynamic mosaic of habitats to create a bigger, better, more connected landscape. We’re planting tens of thousands of trees, creating wood pasture, tree shelterbelts, hedgerows, orchards, and species rich grassland as well as rewetting the land – all to help restore natural process and help nature flourish.
“It’s amazing to see so many local communities already getting involved with the tree planting this winter. Every tree planted is playing a tangible part in the nature and climate emergency, and we hope people will enjoy seeing these wooded habitats flourish – as much as the many wildlife and plant species who will be able to thrive in their new home.”
The planting at all sites will be carried out by National Trust ranger teams, contractors and many local community groups made up of local primary schools, health and wellbeing organisations and corporate groups.
It has been made possible thanks to donations from the Trust’s Plant a Tree fund, HSBC UK, and Utility Warehouse. Stuart Burnett, Co-CEO of Utility Warehouse said, “We are proud to support the National Trust’s efforts to revive the temperate rainforest habitats of North Devon. Through the planting of 50,000 trees at Arlington, we hope to help restore biodiversity in the UK and play our part in tackling climate change while ensuring local communities have access to the benefits of nature for many years to come.”
Since the launch of the Plant a Tree fund in 2020, more than £2.8million has been raised for tree planting projects across the country, leading to the completion of 51 projects and more than one million trees planted to date.
This winter, another 25 projects will get underway, planting a mixture of more than 350,000 native broadleaf trees and hedging plants including cherry, elder, crab apple, rowan, blackthorn, hawthorn, pear, plum, and alder buckthorn to create new woodlands and hedgerows.
The Plant a Tree projects form a crucial component of the conservation charity’s commitment to plant and establish 20 million trees by 2030.