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Day 28: Future Forest

Posted: Wednesday 28th June 2017 by 30DaysWild2017

Another way to conserve nature - create a forest.

Acquiring new nature reserves is an important and exciting activity for all conservation organisations. Securing a piece of land to conserve its existing wildlife features for the long-term benefit of everyone is a vital job. As I described in Blog 8 and in Blog 10 this may sometimes involve securing land that has great potential and managing it to improve its wildlife value. In yesterday’s blog I described how other sites may be secured to halt deterioration and bring back wildlife features only recently lost.

There is another approach, creating a reserve from scratch. Deliberately introducing species and encouraging the invasion of other wildlife is tricky but potentially highly rewarding. It is an ambitious approach. It needs a long-term commitment. It is exactly what The Heart of England Forest are doing, and on a very grand scale.

Dorsington WoodThe idea of creating a new forest of native tree species was the vision of the late Felix Dennis. He was a wealthy publisher who based himself in the village of Dorsington on the Worcestershire-Warwickshire border. He had a passion for trees, especially for planting trees and he began by planting his first wood in 1996. This passion grew into the Heart of England Forest project, which now covers 3000 acres. This is divided into four large holdings around Dorsington and Spernal in Warwickshire, and Honeybourne and Sheriff’s Lench, just across the border in Worcestershire’s Vale of Evesham.

The project is underpinned by that familiar mantra, “bigger, better, more joined up”,  and piece-by-piece blocks of land are being added to fill in the gaps and work towards an extensive forest. The ambition is to reach a more-or-less continuous forest of 30,000 acres. It is a long-term ambition and its completion will probably be beyond all of our lifetimes.

Some sections of the forest are already mature woodland while others have been planted only last winter, and there are many other blocks of every age between. These are not plantations. Trees are not planted in rows with neat rectangular block and straight access tracks. Planting is deliberately random and it is always of native species. Most of the young trees are now raised in the project’s own nursery, using stock from local sources.

In many places there is planting of wildflower and grass mixes to provide a species rich ground cover while the trees become established. Most of the new planting is on former arable farm land. This makes the task of establishing a new woodland a daunting task. This is not simply locking the gate and seeing what happens, but an attempt to really shape the wildlife on a landscape scale.

Wherever possible the blocks of land are joined together by permissive Felix Dennis statue at Dorsingtonfootpaths so it is possible to wander through areas at various stages of woodland development. Another key idea underpinning the whole project is what is now known as the “Health and Wellbeing agenda”. When I was younger it used to be called “enjoying nature”. It is the idea that contact with wildlife, with green spaces, is key to human physical and mental health. Simply experiencing wildlife, keeps us out of the doctor’s surgery and so is beneficial for all of society. The Heart of England Forest is open to all and wandering and idling are encouraged by the provision of mown paths and plenty of seats.

Establishing a new forest requires an ambitious vision and a lot of money. Land to convert to forest, without the expectation of an income from it, requires very deep pockets and a generous vision of the value of woodlands as places for everyone’s enjoyment. Felix Dennis started this as a personal enterprise. Since his death the vision and resources that back it have become consolidated in a charitable trust. The trust is now actively encouraging volunteers to get involved in the planting up of new sites and in the management of existing sites. A community of people recording the wildlife of the forest is starting to establish itself.

Details of the project and maps of walks around various sections of the forest can be found on the charity’s web site. A Wikipedia entry gives further background.


Graham Martin, Chair of the Worcestershire Wildlife Trust, opinions are my own not those of the Trust., @GrahamMartin99

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