Our Green Heroes

National tree week is about celebrating trees. As a woodland officer for a utility company our views on woodland management are slightly different from commercial foresters. We manage our woodlands primarily to protect water quality but they deliver a whole lot more than that.

It’s been a tough 12 months for our trees. Early in the year the damage caused by the ‘Beast from the East’ brought down over 10,000 of our trees across the region. Some veteran trees came down in the gales, including several Douglas Fir specimens in Thirlmere that were more than 120 years old – each more than 40 foot tall and some five tonnes in weight.

Our Macclesfield forest and Thirlmere catchments were the worst affected with resultant footpath closures and extensive emergency works that took some time to resolve. Most of these routes have now reopened and the public can again go and enjoy these special places. The work to reopen the remaining routes around Thirlmere is still ongoing.

This April we finished planting a new native broadleaved woodland, 9 hectare in size, around Spring Mill reservoir, near Rochdale. The purpose is to safeguard against erosion, slow down water runoff and improve water quality, whilst enhancing the landscape for the benefit of wildlife and visitors. Species included in the planting include oak, birch, common alder and rowan together with an element of smaller trees and shrubs and areas of open space. All designed to suit site conditions and reflect the native woodland type for the area.

Establishing a woodland is always tricky, as saplings are only small and the competition for moisture and nutrients, even with grasses is high. In order to protect water quality we don’t use herbicide to treat competitive vegetation so it can be a struggle for the saplings. The key is to try and get the species most suited to the site and then keep up with the maintenance until the trees can stand on their own 2 roots. This year they also had to contend with the driest, hottest spring and summer for over 40 years.

The weather hasn’t been the only challenge. We have also had confirmation that groups of larch trees on the Thirlmere catchment have been affected by the tree disease Phytophthora Ramorum. We are now doing everything we can to help stop the spread of this damaging disease and protect Thirlmere and surrounding areas from future outbreaks.

Even with these challenges there are reasons to be cheerful. The resilience of woodland habitats and the benefits they bring to a range of stakeholders – water quality, flood management, recreation, carbon sequestration – are finally being realised. The Great Northern Forest that was announced as part of DEFRA’s 25 Year Environment Plan extends right across the southern stretch of our area of operation and includes several of our catchment estates.

Since 2005 we have planted over 750,000 trees on our land as part of our award winning Sustainable Catchment Management Programme (SCaMP). This innovative approach to catchment management has evolved to such an extent that we are now looking at how we can help others manage their land to improve water quality, which inevitably includes woodland creation.

And that brings me back to those saplings at Spring Mill. This winter we will replant the trees lost to the dry weather and continue to carry out maintenance to control completive grasses and weeds until a beautiful native broadleaf woodland is established. A woodland that will be providing benefits to the communities of the North West (carbon sequestration, visual amenity, habitats) for many years to come – it’s about long term value.