Woodlands: right tree, right place

Meet Lee Schofield, the RSPB’s Senior Site Manager at Haweswater, Cumbria, in this special film looking at how the RSPB is creating and restoring woodland habitat across the UK. Lee’s role involves overseeing conservation work across an upland mosaic of woodland, bog, mountain and meadow. Find out what it means to plant the right tree in the right place, and how what you do in your garden can make a big difference for nature.
Woodlands are our most important habitat I would suggest. The trees and the woodlands and all of the forest creatures, all of the forest denizens, are part of this interconnected system which is helping to regulate the climate, lock up carbon, reduce flood risk, as well as providing homes for wildlife, so they are absolutely vital to planetary well-being. We are seeing huge changes, changes that in this part of the world, in the Lake District, have been going on for thousands of years. You know once upon a time, woodlands clothed vast areas of the Lake District landscape. Today only 13% of the UK is covered by woodlands. But in my lifetime, we're seeing a recognition that we need more trees. We're seeing more trees being planted. You know, there's still problems. We're still not getting it right all of the time,.

But I think there is this reawakening now, that we need more woodland. We need more forests. We need to diversify our landscape and and restore some of the woodland habitat that we've lost over time. Here at Haweswater, our focus is very much on expanding the woodlands. So we have about 200 hectares of really good quality woodland habitat but it's surrounded by a landscape that's really quite denuded you know. Areas of bracken that that really should have more woodland in them. So we collect seeds and berries and nuts and cuttings. We grow them in our nursery which is just down there behind us. We'll plant them back out into the landscape to expand the woodland. Mostly these are woodlands for wildlife. They provide a home for red squirrels which people will see scampering across the roads quite regularly. We don't really manage them for for produce. These.

Are places that are quiet, undisturbed refuges for a whole host of really important wildlife species. There is a real sense of urgency. We need to do more. We need to do it faster. We need to do it at a bigger scale, but at our reserve here at Haweswater, we are, I think, showing the art of the possible. In other places, up in the Cairngorms, we're connecting up the ancient Caledonian pine woods, by working with partners across a really huge landscape, at a really big scale. In Wales we're removing invasive species like rhododendron to restore the Celtic temperate rainforest. All over the RSPB, we're creating hedgerows, getting trees back into the landscape. In Cambridgeshire at our Hope Farm,.

We are starting on an agroforestry trial and planting lines of fruit and nut trees within arable crops in order to diversify the produce, as well as fight the climate emergency. We need to make sure we have the right trees in the right places. Not everywhere is suitable for trees to grow. Actually trees planted in peat soils can do a lot more harm than good. There's more carbon locked up in peatland soils than there are in all of the forests combined across the planet. Peatlands are hugely important and if we drain those peatlands, we lower the water table and we allow the carbon in those soils to react with the oxygen in the atmosphere, and carbon dioxide is released. In the past, some peatland areas were drained to create woodland plantations.

That was carried out at a vast scale in places like the Flow Country at the north of Scotland, but all over the country really. But these dense plantations offer very little for wildlife and they become an eco-wilderness, almost silent. As time has gone on we've realised the error. You know we've realised that those mistakes were made. And so taking those trees out, restoring that peatland in order to keep that carbon store in the peat safe, and making sure those new forests are going into places that won't cause so much harm to the climate is a really important thing that government agencies, conservation organisations are actively working towards.

No. I mean we need wood, we need paper, we need bog roll, we need chairs and tables. Of course we need timber. But we need to be much more intelligent about where these plantations should be placed. We need to be producing our own timber, but we also need to make sure that we're not producing it in a way that is doing more harm than good. We also need to think about trees planted within a sort of mosaic of different landscapes. So getting away from this idea that woodlands are just a block of trees. You know where we're sitting at the moment, this is a wood pasture. Animals graze around these lovely old craggy ash and oak trees. Gardens across the UK combined add up to an absolutely enormous area, probably more than all of the RSPB reserves put together. Almost certainly in fact. So.

You know more trees in our gardens will provide homes for birds and for other wildlife. They provide shade in the summer when it gets hot and places to shelter for wildlife when it's really lashing it down with rain or whatever. They help water to infiltrate into the soil by having such deep penetrating roots. So you know, plant some trees in your garden. They don't have to be huge things that are going to you know shade out your windows. Even just a small shrub will make a difference. All of those small actions add up to massive changes. Walking through the woodlands, spending time in them is just an extraordinary experience. You're surrounded by the sound of the birds. The light is always changing as you're walking through them. You know, there are chemicals that the trees release.

That actually improve your well-being. You know that's scientifically proven to show that time spent in woodlands is good for your mental health. Trees and woodlands deliver for wildlife, for the climate and for water. If we can see more woodlands and forests established, we will tackle the climate and the biodiversity crisis. But what's absolutely crucial is we make sure we put the right tree in the right place.

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Woodlands: right tree, right place