Victorian invaders to be weeded out of Yorkshire’s ancient woodlands

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WORK to restore ancient West Yorkshire woodland dating back hundreds of years will start this month in woods near Esholt Hall in the Aire valley.

The Yorkshire Water-backed scheme will see the removal of foreign tree and shrub species planted in the 19th and 20th centuries and the control of non-native weeds in woodland near Esholt village and at Buck Wood, on the site of the Esholt waste water treatment works.

The aim is to restore these ancient woodland areas to ‘upland oakwood’, a priority habitat in the Bradford Local Biodiversity Action Plan due to its rarity and high ecological value.

Geoff Lomas, recreation and catchment manager at Yorkshire Water, said: “Ancient woodlands are essentially the UK equivalent of the Amazon rainforests. It’s hard to stress just how valuable they are both in terms of our heritage and from a biodiversity point of view.

“Once an ancient woodland is lost, it’s gone forever, which is why we’re taking a lead and investing such a significant amount to save these precious sites, and enhance them by planting native species which will help to create ecologically diverse habits that are home to an incredible range of plants, insects and animals.”

Trees and shrubs planted in the 19th and 20th centuries, such as rhododendron and laurels, as well as pine, larch and sycamore will be removed, and the project will also tackle ‘invasive species’ such as Himalayan balsam and Japanese knotweed.

The dense leaves of rhododendron and laurels stop light reaching the woodland floor, which is essential if native bluebells and other ground species are to thrive.

Removing non-native plants and trees will create more natural woodlands and provide a boost to wildlife and plants by enhancing opportunities for many more species.

Yorkshire Water is partnered in the project by the Forestry Commission, Natural England and regional experts.

Ancient woodlands are defined as any area which has been under continuous tree cover since at least the 1600s, but in reality they could date back thousands of years to the time of the wild wood which covered much of Yorkshire after the last Ice Age.

The project is part of a wider range of sustainability activities at the 750 acre Esholt site, one of Yorkshire Water’s largest sewage treatment works.