Tree planting scheme to offset damage of new polyhalite mine in the North York Moors delayed by Brexit-related sapling shortages

The North York Moors National Park Authority, which approved the world’s largest polyhalite mine development, is examining how it can meet tree planting targets to offset the development’s impact in the face of a national shortage of saplings.

The scenic North York Moors
The scenic North York Moors

A meeting this week heard that a year on from Anglo American buying the Woodsmith Mine near Whitby, key elements of the development have been completed, such as shafts, buildings and some 14km of the tunnel to Teesside.

The meeting heard there had been “significant disruption in the delivery of compensation and mitigation projects” due to the pandemic, but good progress had been made on a wide range of activities.

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Members, including the authority’s chairman Jim Bailey, said it was essential the most was made out of the compensation payments set out in 2015, as without them the mine would not have been approved following a host of environmental objections.

A principal part of measures to mitigate the mine includes the planting of swathes of trees, for which the mine’s owners are paying £135,000 a year towards, alongside other contributions.

The national park’s management plan states an additional 3,000 hectares of environmentally positive woodland could be accommodated there. Officers said last year saw more than 35,000 trees planted across 29 hectares of the park - the equivalent to 54 football pitches, alongside some 70 hectares of “woodland enhancement”.

In total, just over 109 hectares of woodlands have been planted since building work on the mine started four years ago and a further 39 projects are in the pipeline for the coming planting season.

However, officers said Brexit had caused supply issues with materials from the continent, such as a shortage of tree stakes. In addition, when questioned over the huge build-up of demand for saplings alongside a surge in woodland creation schemes nationally, officers said they were “very conscious” of the uncertainty over stocks.

In the UK alone, the government has set a target of establishing 30,000 hectares of new woodland in England by 2025 and planting 11 million trees by 2022.

While HS2 is responsible for planting up to seven million trees, the BBC One Show aims to plant 750,000 trees during the next 12 months.

Officers said the authority was looking into alternative means of meeting its targets, such as by natural colonisation, where fewer saplings are used to create woodlands, and through volunteers collecting tree seeds.

Officers said they remained confident the target 111-hectare target for the first five years of construction could be met.