Following last week’s post about tree planting on a very species-rich grassland in Cumbria, organised by the Woodland Trust, I’ve been contacted with another story of a similar nature, in Cheshire.
This time it’s a piece of lowland acid grassland – about 0.8ha of what may well be a very unusual species-rich form of acid grassland, as it supports a large population of Lathyrus linifolius (montanus previously) commonly known as Bitter vetch.
According to the source “Around 2 years ago the local community helped to plant it up with trees sourced through a Woodland Trust fund.” When the WT were approached and asked why they had planted up a species-rich grassland and whether they would do anything about it, they did nothing about it.
The grassland is not a County Wildlife Site but is being considered as one, in the hope that if it meets the criteria the owners can be persuaded to remove the trees and start grazing it again.
Nearby sites on similar geology support an interesting range of neutral and acid-loving plants, which would easily qualify them as SSSI. This type of grassland also supports internationally important communities of fungi, particularly waxcaps.
Once again we see the Woodland Trust supporting tree planting efforts on wildlife-rich grasslands. In this case it’s the local community who has been persuaded to carry out this piece of environmental vandalism, in the name of err environmental enhancement and climate action. The landowner is also an innocent party, as was the case in Cumbria.
For those of you thinking – “it’s just 0.8ha of grassland – why all the fuss?”. Cheshire has lost 99% of its species-rich grassland – and lowland acid grassland, especially of the species-rich form which this site may support, is found across a few hundred hectares of very small sites.
If we are ever to restore wildlife across the UK, at a large scale, these small sites will be vital in providing the wildlife to colonise back into the surrounding landscapes.
But quite apart from that, they are little jewels, created by millennia of interplay between people and nature.
They hold our history, they provide meaning, they hold memories and they are places which we must cherish.
I avoided a similar issue a couple of years ago. I’m very lucky to own 8ha of lowland calcareous grassland in Somerset. Three years ago now, I applied for a grant from the Woodland Trust to plant 750 trees. A really nice person came out to survey the fields, but really the survey was to assess whether the site was big enough for that number of trees; it didn’t include any wider diversity or impact assessments. The survey report gave some guidance about the species of trees and about how and when to plant. Luckily, I’d also approached the Somerset Wildlife Trust about ways to improve and support the wildlife on the fields and really it was from them that I learned about the special nature of the fields and what should be done. I didn’t plant the trees. If it helps, I could send you the Woodland Trust survey report?
thanks Gail. Yes I’d be very interested to see the WT survey report and the Somerset WT survey.
Glad to read that Gail. You did the right thing.
Another Cumbrian one next door to Cumbria Wildlife Trust’s Howe Ridding Wood nature reserve. This is the landowner of the next door area of grassland wanting to plant it with Sitka Spruce and being given a grant by the FC.
The Wildlife Trust were consulted as neighbours and raised the issue of the grassland, which is largely acidic, but flushed with calcareous water. It has orchids, grass of parnassus, bog pimpernel, a host of other plants and many, many ant hills. It is part of the nectaring area for the nationally important population of High Brown and Pearl Bordered Fritillary butterflies that breed on the nature reserve. FC got the owner to employ a consultant to do a report on the grassland, which said it was all fine. We currently have no idea as to whether the site will be planted or not…
thanks David. Can I put this comment on twitter, as the FC have been saying how good they are and it would appear this example doesn’t support their claim.
Good to see you are writing about this issue. I am also concerned that this situation of trees being planted on existing species-rich grasslands will only increase across the country, unless those giving the go-ahead to planting become better informed about a each sites existing botanical value.
You might be aware that the BBC radio 4 programme “PM” has made 2020 the year of the tree? It would be great to hear this issue, together with the benefits of favouring choosing natural regeneration over tree planting being discussed on PM programme.
thanks James. That’s a great idea about PM. I will see if I can interest them.
A predictable and worrying problem – with (I think) FOE advocating planting up the ‘rough corners’ it’s hardly surprising – and there are lots of other well intentioned people thinking about that bit of under-used land. But in the lowlands they are literally all that’s left. What’s the answer ? In the long term we really do need the woodland culture Bishop James Jones advocated. In the short term, it’s scary because the enthusiasm for planting more trees is in inverse proportion to the knowledge of many of those wanting to plant.
Probably The single biggest positive would be conservationists getting their act together to tell us where trees SHOULD be planted. The RSPB’s report this week is the precise opposite of what is needed. The bitter irony of this situation is that it is because of the level of intensification of the countryside – which has crept up our hillsides, nitrogen bright green, dramatically in the last 30 years, that so few and so precious fragments are left – we have huge areas where even planting conifers !! would do no damage and possibly even improve the biodiversity. I’m concerned that the assumption new planting is going to be on semi-natural sites (however de-graded, which many are) will result in that happening – whereas we should be planting where it is best for trees, poor for farming, on improved land down the slope. We really do need to wake up to the reality that, free of the CAP, we can develop a completely new approach to how we use land. many of the farmers in the lower reaches of the less favoured areas, despite intensive improvement that has done massive damage to wildlife, aren’t doing to well financially and are likely to be very open to changes that allow them to stay in buisness, including planting trees.
We have a similar issue in the area I was raised, Dumfries and Galloway. The FC (Scottish Forrestry) give grants for trees and the consultants who work for the land owners copy paste 1970’s thinking and go for mainly Sika spruce. (This is the lowest value product you can plant and gets burnt anyway, so doesn’t mitigate Climate change). The land is mostly acid grasslands and is incredibly diverse and able to take pretty much most species of trees, as well as a sensible business plan for tourism, industry and agriculture, but the reports and planning consulting is all mainly a done deal with the council and the FC who are thoughtless and don’t really care for the details and community needs. How do we present a sensible suggestion for a productive forestry that is diverse and uses hardwood such as Douglas which can be backed with evidence, when people only say what NOT to do?
Thanks Adam. Douglas Fir is not a hardwood.
Ok, well I only mention it as its a valuable product in comparison to Sika. I work in technology for mass timber and have the only home grown solution which we use a combo of larch and Douglas, but there are not enough tree planted. When I check the desktop survey for suitability pretty much all the species are, but the proposals are lazy and go for Sike every time. So I was hoping you might have positive suggestions to try and help avoid a blanket of high density, monoculture destroying the hills that have so much more potential. http://www.forestdss.org.uk/geoforestdss/#
thanks Adam. We can agree on Sitka and I think phytopthera means new Larch planting is unlikely.
Perhaps the question I would ask you is where do you think the Douglas Fir should be being planted?
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