Forest contractor Dave Wardell, from Pickering, braves the icy wind to help plant over 40,000 new trees in Guisborough Forest

A small army of hardy workers will venture deep into local forests over coming months in a race against time to plant 625,000 trees – all by hand!

That’s the Herculean task facing forestry staff as they seek to replace trees felled for timber and broaden wildlife habitats.

More than two hundred hectares of land will be replanted, mainly in forests like Dalby, Cropton and Langdale, near Pickering,  and Wass Moor and Kilburn, near Helmsley.

In Guisborough Forest up to forty thousand trees will be planted, including Sitka spruce and a small amount of Serbian spruce as a trial. The forest is undergoing a long-term plan to make it into a more diversified woodland offering a greater range of habitats for wildlife and more natural boundaries with moorland.

But the clock is ticking as trees must be planted before the weather gets too warm and sapling roots become active – that would stress young trees during their relocation from the nursery to the wood. Equally, it’s impossible to plant when the ground is frozen.  Jon Bates from the Forestry Commission explained, “Unlike many aspects of forestry, tree planting has not been mechanised, so it’s all done by hand. A skilled operator can plant over one thousand trees per day and given the size of the job and limited time that’s just as well. The annual planting programme is vital to ensure that our woods continue to produce a sustainable supply of timber well into the future.”

This year’s planting effort is bigger than normal because additional sites are being replanted which were badly affected by a major storm which hit North Yorkshire and the Tees Valley  in 2005. It is estimated that  more than a million trees were toppled or damaged by severe gales on the  Forestry Commission estate in the region.

A variety of tree species are being planted to ensure forests are more resilient to climate change and the growing problem of tree diseases.  A mix of spruces, various pines and firs are all scheduled to take root. But other factors are also being introduced into the mix, including producing more attractive forests with a range of habitats.

Jon added, “Some of the felled areas are being left to regenerate naturally rather than replanted as part of long-term work to enhance habitats and landscapes – this is the case in Guisborough Forest where  40 hectares have been set aside.  We carefully monitor these sites, but we expect to see birch and rowan pushing through, eventually followed by oak. Trees planted for commercial reasons will be ripe for felling by the mid-point of the century. It just emphasises that forestry is a long term business. We work on a time-scale of many decades, which makes the work of the tree planters doubly important.”

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