National Tree Week is the UK’s largest annual tree celebration, marking the start of the winter tree planting season (November to March each year). This year, it’s taking place 28 November – 6 December. The Tree Council first established National Tree Week in 1975 to support national re-planting of trees after the outbreak of Dutch Elm Disease. This has particular resonance this year given while we are dealing with a Coronavirus pandemic, while our trees and woodlands are dealing with what appears to be an increasing number of pests and diseases.  Ash dieback in particular is a great concern and is having negative impacts upon the Cumbrian landscape (ash is the most common tree in Cumbria outside of woodlands- emphasising its prominence and the consequent impacts of its loss in the landscape) and close to home some impact upon trees on our land at Mike's Wood near Staveley.

Our own Little Asby Hawthorn (above) came second in Cumbria's Top 50 Trees in 2016.

This autumn the Government consulted on a Tree Strategy for England.  The document sets out ambitious plans for tree planting.  We have also heard more this week that Common Agricultural Policy payments will be replaced by a focus on payment for public goods through the Environmental Land Management Scheme. This will involve a much greater emphasis upon nature, including tree planting rather than subsidies being based upon the amount of land an owner has in a productive agricultural state.  All of this is welcome, in principle.

We support the ambitions of the England Tree Strategy and have ourselves planted a number of new woodlands over the past couple of decades but think it’s critical that the right trees are planted within the right places and that any strategy is not purely about numbers of trees and size of areas planted.  Our most important trees and woodlands are often those that have been around for a long time in the form of veteran trees and ancient woodlands.  These are largely irreplaceable and attempts to compensate for their loss to development are never likely to be comparable.  George Peterken as quoted by the great landscape historian Oliver Rackham pointed out “that 40% of the vascular plant species [native plants] in ancient woods have been unable to colonise new woodland even after 400 years, and there is no sign they will do so eventually”. 

Woodlands are a great opportunity to store carbon and mitigate climate change but we would not want to see a situation where peatlands already so important in retaining carbon are threatened with afforestation.  This is a mistake made in the 1970s and 80s and we would not want to see it repeated in a race to plant large numbers of trees.  You might have thought we were well beyond making this mistake but only a couple of weeks ago a story emerged about new planting on peatland at Berrier End near Penrith.

This ancient oak is in our own Mike's Wood, Staveley, a veteran in a 'young' wood, planted 27 years ago to celebrate our former chief officer Mike Huston.

Detailed and careful consideration needs to be given to where woodlands should be planted in the Lake District World Heritage Site and in wider Cumbria.  Our view is that a landscape approach is the best approach.  This will ensure that new woodlands expand out from existing strongholds, giving the soils, fungi, plants and animals the best chance of expanding their valuable habitat into new areas. Planting new woodland on pasture away from existing trees, woodlands and hedgerows will likely never attain the same value as our ancient woods.  An approach that starts with the existing landscape character will also help to connect up woodlands, hedgerows and dry stone walls which all provide the linescapes that connect woodland habitats together.

The approach to woodland management in recent times tends to be one of attempts to completely exclude herbivores.  However, this would rarely have been the situation with woodlands in past time where some level of grazing and disturbance would have taken place, after all deer are woodland creatures, it’s a question of how numbers are managed.  We have emphasised the importance of wood pasture as a habitat and one that will have been much more prevalent in Cumbria in the past.

To celebrate National Tree Week we want to see your favourite trees - in Cumbria and further afield - and tell us why. We'll be posting on our social media facebook, Twitter and Instagram, or you can email photos to [email protected].

We have a number of plans to plant more trees on our existing sites and you can help with this by purchasing one of our landscape gifts.

Read more about trees:

Cumbria’s Top 50 Trees - Tree facts

Rare lichen rescued from Lake District blown-down tree - BBC News

Former Tree of the Year felled in Warwickshire to make way for HS2

Climate crisis: Campaign for viewers to plant 750,000 trees launched by BBC’s Countryfile

The Woodland Trust’s Ancient Tree Inventory, where anyone can submit trees they think are particularly old for assessment and if they meet the criteria, will be added to the inventory - and trees identified as ancient have quite strong protection under planning policy.

THE LONG VIEW An art and poetry project featuring five Cumbrian trees, including our own Little Asby Hawthorn, pictured above.