National Trust plants 90,000 trees across Wimpole Estate in record £1.3m project
A £1.3million investment is enabling the planting of 90,000 trees across the Wimpole Estate.
The National Trust, which runs the estate, said it was its largest and most diverse tree planting project to date.
In spite of the recent storms, the charity aims to finish planting by the middle of March, which will help to create 120 hectares (296 acres) of woodland, wood pasture and agroforestry.
Project manager Jason Sellars said: “Ten months in the planning and with three intensive months of tree planting under way, we want to demonstrate how action to tackle climate change and to aid nature’s recovery can be undertaken in a relatively short space of time.
“This tree planting is the beginning of something exciting that will last for generations to come. In stark contrast to our ancestors, we’re planting areas of woodland to capture carbon rather than to give us fuel, while also creating new habitats for wildlife.”
The project is funded by the government’s Green Recovery Challenge Fund and HSBC UK and will help the National Trust with its ambition to be net carbon zero by 2030.
The project will create 32 hectares (79 acres) of new woodland, 49 hectares (121 acres) of wood pasture and 39 hectares (96 acres) of agroforestry, with 39 native apple tree varieties including six for harvesting and juicing, including Ashmead’s Kernel, Egremont Russet and Greensleeves. The Wimpole team intends to generate income from growing apples, while continuing to harvest cereal crops, as it has done for 12 years.
David Hassall, farm manager at Wimpole says: “The 2,000 apple trees will be planted in rows to link two areas of well-established woodland, roughly 330 metres apart, to help encourage the estate’s rare Barbastelle bat population to travel between the woods, with cereal crops growing in between.
“The apple trees will provide food for pollinators, particularly bees when blossom emerges in the spring and the wildflower rich strips the trees are planted in will support a range of wildlife.
“The wood pasture and areas of new woodland will help counter drought as once established the trees will help hold water in the landscape as well as attracting plenty of worms and fungi which will help soil health and store carbon.
“This means that we can continue to plant our arable crops and have healthy grazing pasture for our rare breed cattle and sheep.”
The Wimpole Estate stretches across 1,000 hectares (2,471 acres) of the South Cambridgeshire countryside and has been occupied for at least 5,000 years.
A study of areas being considered for planting - which lie in areas of less productive arable land - was carried out, ensuring it will achieve the greatest benefit to nature.
Mr Sellars said: “It’s been really important to us to fully understand the context of what we are doing in light of the history of the land and the nature that already lives here.
“A full analysis of the land and consulting with partners has given us the confidence that we have selected the right areas for tree planting – and are planting the right trees in the right places. For instance, we’ve adapted our plans to avoid impacting existing habitats for corn buntings, a rare farmland bird species, that are already established at Wimpole
“We’ve planted 14 different species of native trees including oak, hornbeam, wild cherry, field maple and birch, plus 10 species of shrubs including hawthorn, hazel and spindle.
“The variety of trees is really important to help build resilience into the landscape in the face of a growing number of tree diseases, and to attract different birds and animals.
“Once all the trees are planted we’ll enter a three to five-year period where we’ll leave the trees to establish and grow before introducing livestock.”
A geophysical survey helped locate some significant archaeological finds and the planting plans were altered to preserve the sites.
Advice was also sought from the Woodland Trust, Natural England, RSPB, Historic England and Forestry England and a baseline ecology survey was performed.
Archaeologist Angus Wainwright, who led the historic studies, said: “Wimpole has always been a place of dynamic change. “Many might think that Wimpole seems a bit of timeless English countryside but really it has never stood still.
“Through the research we’ve conducted we’ve uncovered the waxing and waning of tree planting which has been going on at Wimpole for centuries, and we are continuing that trend.
“The biggest changes made to the estate were in the 1660s, when every element of the medieval landscape was dramatically changed over the course of just 20 years. Every road, field and settlement was altered or removed in order to improve profitability.
“After that we see the park expanding rapidly, eating up fields and hamlets with woodland spreading into the countryside for the first time in the form of belts and wooded drives. In the 20th century, we see a response to advances in farming technology and the drive towards intensive farming methods in the removal of hedgerows.
“It's interesting that despite the dramatic changes to the countryside in the 17th-century, in many cases the old tracks and furlong boundaries were preserved as new field boundaries.
“Even in the park, we can see how the 18th-century avenues were laid out along earlier medieval field boundaries, and today we’re using the same principles with the current fields dictating our new wood boundaries.”
A baseline ecology survey was carried out, aided by the training of 12 volunteers over the last 10 months, which will help the biodiversity impact be measured.
National Trust ecologist Alison Collins says: “We’ve been able to reset the biodiversity baseline for Wimpole by surveying for bats, butterflies, birds and plants. We’ve worked with volunteers to show them how to take transect records of species and we now plan to survey the same areas going forwards.
“We recorded an excellent number of species this year. Particular highlights included bee, pyramidal and common spotted orchids in the wildflower-rich field margins where we also recorded 28 species of butterfly; marbled whites, ringlet, meadow brown and gatekeepers in particularly high numbers, with good numbers of common blue and small heath.
“These high numbers are because the farm has been farmed in a nature friendly manner for over a decade, turning organic in 2009 and introducing extra wide eight metre grassland margins around arable fields to support wildflowers such as oxeye daisies and common knapweed to benefit pollinators and invertebrates.
“The hedgerows have been looked after so that they are wide and good habitats for wildlife. They are particularly good for the estate’s rare and internationally important Barbastelle bat population as it allows them to navigate easily between their woodland roosting and feeding sites.
“As the trees start to grow and the new habitats become established, we obviously hope to see these numbers increase, but also that other wildlife moves in, such as additional bat and butterfly species attracted to the new areas of woodland and other habitats.”
Anthony Browne, MP for South Cambridgeshire, said: “The plans they are bringing forward are simply extraordinary, something I got to see first-hand when visiting in October.”
He added: “In the news you see these big numbers, but there’s nothing like seeing it come together before your very eyes. Very best of luck to Wimpole!”
The Cambridge Independent is continuing to highlight tree-planting projects as part of our Plant A Tree campaign, launched in recognition that Cambridgeshire is one of the least wooded regions in Europe.