One of the biggest and boldest replanting schemes ever undertaken in England is underway to transform part of the Yorkshire Dales back to ancient times.

The massive scheme, covering the equivalent of 523 football pitches at Snaizeholme, near Hawes, aims to create one of the biggest native woodlands in the country as the first new trees are put in. But the Woodland Trust, which is undertaking the huge task, admits there’s a huge problem - the weather.

Al Nash, leader of the project, said the unforgiving landscape witnesses everything the weather can throw at it, plus steep hillsides, gushing streams and delicate ancient habitats including limestone pavements and peatlands.

The first phase is being paid for by the White Rose Forest and the Department for the Environment's nature for climate fund.

Mr Nash said: “I love the Dales but the one thing it lacks in many areas is an abundance of trees. Here we will be giving nature and biodiversity a big boost and creating a vibrant mosaic of habitats and a rare opportunity to create a sizeable wildlife haven for the north of England.

“Woodland birds will have a home here for the first time in centuries, and open scrub woodland should benefit endangered species like the black grouse.

"It's clearly a wonderful opportunity to create something tangible in the Yorkshire Dales for the fight against climate change, the work we do here will restore an entire ecosystem, lock away carbon for years to come, and help improve water quality and mitigate flooding in the areas.”

Centuries ago the glacial valley would have had swathes of woodland but now the 1,387 acres is almost devoid of trees.

Mr Nash added: “It’s a stark situation repeated across the Yorkshire Dales National Park, where total tree cover is less than five per cent and ancient woodlands only making up one per cent of that.

“The Woodland Trust is determined to change this. Thanks to a successful public campaign we raised the funds to buy the site, which includes helping to protect a significant red squirrel population. Snaizeholme really will be a unique and complex piece of conservation work because of the range of habitats and species, the topography and elevation, not to mention the estimated two metres of rainfall per year.

“Tree planting will exist alongside huge restoration projects, including 279 acres of blanket bog / deep peat , approximately 247 acres of limestone pavement and over 191 acres of open valley bottom following Snaizeholme Beck.”

They will be working with the Universities of York and Leeds. Guy Thompson, director of the White Rose Forest, said: “We are delighted to see tree planting underway at Snaizeholme. This truly outstanding project will not only bring numerous benefits to the Dales and its communities but also demonstrates the continued commitment of the White Rose Forest to deliver landscape scale projects for natural flood management and nature recovery in Yorkshire.”