National Trust plants 90,000 trees on Wimpole Estate in record £1.3million project

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An investment of £1.3 million enables the planting of 90,000 trees on the Wimpole estate.

The National Trust, which manages the estate, said it was its largest and most diverse tree-planting project to date.

National Trust ranger Stuart Gilmore checks apple trees planted as part of a new agroforestry on the Wimpole Estate in Cambridgeshire. Photo: Mike Selby (55162278)

Despite recent storms, the charity aims to complete planting by mid-March, which will help create 120 hectares (296 acres) of woodland, wooded pasture and agroforestry.

Project Manager Jason Sellars said: “Ten months of planning and with three months of intensive tree planting underway, we want to demonstrate how action to tackle climate change and help nature recover can be taken. in a relatively short period of time.

“This tree planting is the start of something exciting that will last for generations to come. Unlike our ancestors, we plant forested areas to capture carbon rather than provide us with fuel, while 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 in its ambition to be net zero carbon by 2030.

The project will create 32 hectares (79 acres) of new woodland, 49 hectares (121 acres) of wooded pasture and 39 hectares (96 acres) of agroforestry, with 39 varieties of native apple trees, including six for harvesting and extraction of juice, including Ashmead’s Kernel, Egremont Russet and Greensleeves. The Wimpole team intends to generate income through apple cultivation, while continuing to harvest cereals, as it has done for 12 years.

Wimpole Estate, Cambridgeshire.  Photo: Mike Selby (55162255)
Wimpole Estate, Cambridgeshire. Photo: Mike Selby (55162255)

David Hassall, Wimpole Farm Manager, says: “The 2,000 apple trees will be planted in rows to connect two well-established woodland areas, approximately 330 meters apart, to encourage the estate’s rare Barbastelle bat population. to move between the woods, with grain crops growing in between.

“The apple trees will provide food for pollinators, especially bees when the bloom emerges in spring and the wildflower-rich strips the trees are planted in will support a range of wildlife.

“Wooded pastures and new wooded areas will help combat drought because once established, trees will help retain water in the landscape and attract many worms and fungi which will help maintain soil health and store carbon.

“It means we can continue to plant our arable crops and have healthy pastures for our rare breed cattle and sheep.”

The Wimpole Estate covers 1,000 hectares (2,471 acres) of the South Cambridgeshire countryside and has been occupied for at least 5,000 years.

A survey of the areas being considered for planting – which are in areas of less productive arable land – has been carried out, ensuring that it will bring the greatest benefit to nature.

Female Common Blue Butterfly at Wimpole, Cambridgeshire.  Photo: Alison Collins (55162328)
Female Common Blue Butterfly at Wimpole, Cambridgeshire. Photo: Alison Collins (55162328)

Mr Sellars said: “It was really important for us to really understand the context of what we are doing in light of the history of the land and the nature that already lives here.

“A thorough analysis of the terrain and consultations with partners gave us confidence that we have selected the right areas for tree planting – and that we are planting the right trees in the right places. For example, we have adapted our plans to avoid impacting existing habitats for Corn Buntings, a rare farmland bird species, which are already established at Wimpole.

“We planted 14 different species of native trees, including oak, hornbeam, wild cherry, field maple and birch, as well as 10 species of shrubs, including hawthorn, filbert and euonymus.

“The variety of trees is really important to help build the resilience of the landscape against an increasing number of tree diseases, and to attract different birds and animals.

“Once all the trees are planted, we will enter a three to five year period where we will let the trees become established and grow before introducing livestock.”

Common spotted orchid in Wimpole, Cambridgeshire.  Photo: Alison Collins (55162343)
Common spotted orchid in Wimpole, Cambridgeshire. Photo: Alison Collins (55162343)

A geophysical survey has located some important archaeological finds and planting plans have been modified to preserve the sites.

Advice was also sought from The Woodland Trust, Natural England, RSPB, Historic England and Forestry England and a baseline ecological survey was carried out.

Archaeologist Angus Wainwright, who led the historical studies, said: “Wimpole has always been a place of dynamic change. “Many might think Wimpole seems a bit like the timeless English countryside, but in reality it has never stopped.

“Through the research we have carried out, we have discovered the increase and decrease in tree planting that has been going on in Wimpole for centuries, and we are continuing this trend.

“The biggest changes to the estate took place in the 1660s, when every element of the medieval landscape was radically altered in just 20 years. Every road, field, and village has been changed or removed to improve profitability.

“After that we see the park expanding rapidly, eating fields and hamlets with woods spreading out into the countryside for the first time in the form of wooded belts and walkways. In the 20th century, we see a response to advances in agricultural technology and the trend towards intensive farming methods in the removal of hedgerows.

“Interestingly, despite the dramatic changes to the countryside in the 17th century, in many cases the old tracks and furlong boundaries have been preserved as new field boundaries.

“Even in the park we can see how 18th century avenues were laid out along the boundaries of earlier medieval fields, and today we use the same principles with the current fields which dictate our new timber boundaries.”

National Trust ranger Stuart Gilmore checks apple trees planted as part of a new agroforestry on the Wimpole Estate in Cambridgeshire.  Photo: Mike Selby
National Trust ranger Stuart Gilmore checks apple trees planted as part of a new agroforestry on the Wimpole Estate in Cambridgeshire. Photo: Mike Selby

A basic ecological survey has been carried out, aided by the training of 12 volunteers over the last 10 months, which will allow the impact on biodiversity to be measured.

National Trust ecologist Alison Collins says: “We were able to reset the biodiversity baseline for Wimpole by surveying bats, butterflies, birds and plants. We worked with volunteers to show them how to record species transects and now plan to survey the same areas in the future.

“We have recorded an excellent number of species this year. Particular highlights included the bee, pyramid and spotted orchids common in the margins of wildflower-rich fields where we also recorded 28 butterfly species; mottled whites, satyr, meadow brown and wardens in particularly high numbers, with a fair number of common blues and small heathers.

“These high numbers are due to the fact that the farm has been farmed with respect for nature for over a decade, going organic in 2009 and introducing extra wide eight meter meadow margins around the arable fields to support the flowers. wild such as daisies and knapweed for the benefit of pollinators and invertebrates.

“The hedgerows have been maintained so that they are wide and provide good habitats for wildlife. They are particularly good for the population of rare and internationally important Barbastelle bats, as it allows them to easily navigate between their roosting and feeding sites in the woods.

“As trees start to grow and new habitats become established, we obviously hope to see those numbers increase, but also that other wildlife species move in, such as additional species of bats and butterflies that are attracted to new forested areas and other habitats.”

Anthony Browne, MP for South Cambridgeshire, said: ‘The plans they put forward are simply stunning, something I saw firsthand when I visited in October.

He added: “In the news you see these big numbers, but there’s nothing like seeing them come together before your eyes. Good luck in Wimpole!

The Cambridge Independent continues to shine a spotlight on tree planting projects as part of its Plant A Tree campaign, launched in recognition of Cambridgeshire being one of the least forested regions in Europe.

Read more

Cambridge Past, Present & Future will plant 4,000 trees

Volunteers help plant a community forest garden with edible plants at Babraham Research Campus

It’s tree planting season, what are you waiting for? Take part in the Cambridge Canopy project

The Cambridge Independent Plant a Tree campaign


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