PLANS to create the ‘jewel in the crown’ of the Northern Forest are taking shape in the Yorkshire Dales.

The Woodland Trust has acquired 550 acres of Upper Wensleydale for a flagship woodland creation project.

The Trust aims to plant about 250,000 trees at Snaizeholme, south-west of Hawes, as part of a unique mosaic of habitat restoration which will benefit wildlife and lock up carbon to fight climate change.

When complete it will be one of the largest new woodlands within the Yorkshire Dales National Park and a major element of the Northern Forest – a project which has already seen 3.5m trees planted across the North of England since 2018-19.

The land sits alongside the existing red squirrel reserve and trail at Snaizeholme and the forest project should help to boost the numbers of the endangered species even further.

Staff from the Woodland Trust showed Rishi Sunak, MP for Richmond (Yorks), their plans during a walk through the purchased landscape which is currently mostly bare moorland.

Rishi Sunak said: “This is a quite amazing project taking shape in the heart of the Dales, which will have so many long-term benefits for the immediate area and the wider environment and economy of the North of England.

“The planting of so many trees will really boost our efforts to tackle climate change, improve bio-diversity for wildlife and also help to combat flooding in other parts of Yorkshire.”

The plans for the site also include repairs to dry stone walls to keep the landscape's character while providing corridors and shelter for wildlife.

There would also be ‘slow the flow measures’. Leaky stone dams built in stream channels will fight flooding, trap sediment and reduce land erosion while letting fish and crayfish safely slip through.

Newly-planted saplings would be protected from damage by deer and rabbits, ideally by moving away from all plastic or plastic free guards.

Funding for the land purchase has come from a number of sources including the trust’s public £3.5m Snaizeholme Appeal. The cost of planting the trees and other works will likely be covered by the Woodland Trust and Forestry Commission grants.

Alistair Nash, the Woodland Trust’s estate manager for Snaizeholme, said: “Our vision is to extend and protect the existing red squirrel reserve. We’ll link and buffer neighbouring woodland – patches of which we suspect are ancient.

“The tree-planting and habitat work is a golden opportunity to boost biodiversity. Trees will improve the water quality of the waterways, safeguarding otters and white-clawed crayfish, plus birds such as herons, grey wagtails, kingfishers and dippers.

He said the aim was to create approximately 65 per cent woodland cover, a mixture of native broadleaved trees, including oak, birch rowan, alder and willows, forming an irregular woodland across the mid slopes of the valley, avoiding planting close to existing streams, stream gullies and wet flushes.

Scots pine would form a significant percentage to landscape in the edges of the existing spruce plantations, and will also provide habitat and foraging at an early stage for some of the priority species such as red squirrel and black grouse.

Mr Nash further explained that an area of heavily degraded blanket bog criss-crossed with old drainage channels, but with developing heather, bilberry, cranberry and patches of sphagnum would remain unplanted.

This would ideally develop naturally, providing nesting and foraging habitat for upland birds. However, if necessary, works would be undertaken to ‘re-wet’ the peat.

He added that the open valley bottoms offered potential for wading birds such as curlew, lapwing, oystercatcher and snipe by retaining very open mixed grassland.

Scattered trees – especially on the riverside slopes – would create pockets of scrub and dappled shade along the river. The river would be allowed to flood with some stone leaky dams being built into the feeder tributaries to slow water flow and reduce flooding peaks. Barns would be kept as features in the valley. Meadows would ideally be maintained by grazing with cattle.