Woodland planting must be 'ramped up' in climate emergency, conservation director for Yorkshire Dales warns

Levels of native woodland planting must be “massively” ramped up to tackle climate crises, a conservation director for the Yorkshire Dales has said, as targets surge over greener futures.

Across the national park some 2,200 hectares of native tree planting has been extended over 25 years, under drives from its authority to enhance its landscapes and counter carbon emissions.

Now after ambitions swelled to a further 6,000 hectares over the next decade, the director of conservation for the area has said such goals indicates the scale of “climate emergency”.

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Gary Smith is director of conservation and community for the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority (YDNPA), which has been working on greener growth initiatives for a quarter of a century.

The Yorkshire Dales, image by Marisa Cashill

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Across England, he said, between 1,000 and 1,500 hectares of native woodland is planted each year, with 10 per cent of the whole country’s advances having been made within the national park boundaries.

He said: “Right across the country we need to massively ramp up levels of native woodland planting. Now, it’s much more realistic that we can get there. We definitely want to move faster than we have. It’s a climate emergency, and in an emergency you need to move fast.”

The YDNPA, long identified as an area to benefit from more woodland, has been the focus of ambitions since 1995, with partners “plugging away” relentlessly at sparse funding pots ever since.

The Yorkshire Dales, image by Marisa Cashill

This is a “very sparse” landscape, said Mr Smith, with a lower density of trees even than London, and recognised among the least wooded parts of the country.

Target success

But ambitions were smashed in 2020, as targets exceeded 2,200 hectares. With 95 per cent of the national park privately owned, said Mr Smith, every tree planted serves as testament to the dedication of partner groups, willing farmers and landowners over some 170 sites.

It’s “never the end”, he added, with the Dales Woodland Forum now targeting 6,000 hectares in 10 years.

The Yorkshire Dales, image by Marisa Cashill

He said: “This a significant ramping up. We want to plant a lot more trees – it’s not about chucking any woodland anywhere. We need quality woodland, in the right places.“Even once we’ve planted 6,000 hectares, it would still see only about seven per cent of the national park as wood. This is not replacing – it’s enhancing.”

With a renewed national focus on such initiatives, he added, there are opportunities and funding like never before which could support businesses to become more resourceful.


He said: “There is a group of organisations that have been ‘chipping away’ at something for a very long time, and suddenly it looks like the rest of the world has caught up.

“There are real opportunities out there. Suddenly now it feels a huge opportunity. For us, woodland can become a really valuable part of the Dales farming business.”

The YDNPA and partners has worked with landowners and farmers over 25 years to plant 2,200 hectares of native woodland in the national park, under the Dales Woodland Forum partnership.

Among partners funding schemes are the Forestry Commission, the Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust, the YDNPA, the National Trust, the Woodland Trust and others.

Ambitions will now see a further 6,000 hectares of woodland habitat to enhance landscapes, particularly to strengthen habitat networks, increase carbon storage and help to reduce flooding.


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