New trees help bring devastated Pennine woodland back to life

More than 5,500 trees are being planted to bring back to life a Pennine landscape devastated by wildfire and drought in the summer.

The scorched landscape of Winter Hill, north of Bolton.
The scorched landscape of Winter Hill, north of Bolton.

Planting will take place at the Smithills Estate near Bolton, where the Winter Hill fire – thought to have been started by arsonists – burned through moorland and trees in July.

Around a third of the estate, which was bought by the Woodland Trust in 2015, was damaged by the fire, affecting brown hares and other wildlife.

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The fire burned into the first trees planted as part of efforts to create a new “northern forest” stretching from Liverpool to Hull along the M62 corridor.

The fire coincided with of the area’s biggest droughts this summer, putting strains on the environment of upland grassland, moorland, streams and woodlands that make up the landscape.

Smithills is the largest site the Trust owns in England and is home to 1,000 species from curlews to wild garlic, but was in need of restoration and environmental management when it was taken over.

Chris Waterfield, general manager at the site, said: “The fire seems like yesterday and when it hit, it was a massive state of emergency - something that as a charity we had not handled before.

“Unfortunately we did lose 2,000 trees to the flames and since then we have been busy looking at how to restore the land and try and mitigate future disasters. Planting these trees is another step as we help the land recover from its troubled summer.”

Around 85 per cent of the area is showing signs of natural regeneration but the rest still has bare charred earth which will need management to recover.