28 September 2017

Tree planting at Wilson’s Cave

Volunteers from the Bradford and Craven Pothole Clubs and Natural England, assisted by funding from the Stories in Stone scheme, have planted over 250 trees and shrubs around the Wilson’s Cave area, including native British species, such as hawthorn, hazel, blackthorn and buckthorn. This is part of a wider initiative to restore areas of the National Park to conditions pre-dating the influence of deforestation and sheep/cattle grazing to help preserve native species of plants and wildlife.

Why this kind of work is important:

There isn’t any natural landscape in the UK, everything you see is the result of man’s activities. Originally Ingleborough was totally wooded. Although most of the trees had been removed by the time of the Norman Conquest, trees were still growing in the steep stream valleys, and there were areas of “wood pasture” where scattered trees were retained on pasture land for the various uses around the farm.

Post WWII intensification of agriculture has led to massively increased sheep densities to the detriment of pretty well every aspect of the natural world (including the loss of 97% of our flower-rich hay meadows). Various bodies including NE and the Ingleborough NNR are trying to reverse this habitat loss and return to lower sheep densities and cattle grazing (cattle hoover indiscriminately and can’t get their mouths down into the grikes whereas sheep deliberately target the more succulent and flavoursome grass and flowers, even down the grikes). Part of this involves allowing tree cover to develop on the less good grazing land. Attempts to achieve this naturally have failed because of factors such as lack of seed source in the immediate vicinity and grazing of deer and sheep of tree seedlings - the tree planting is giving a kick start to developing a habitat that would have been more widespread in previous years.

The choice of trees is of British natives suited to the conditions and which would have grown in the area in the past.

You might be interested in the results from the re-wilding of South House Moor - a small mammal survey showed numbers of small mammals on the planted South House Moor with sheep excluded were many times the numbers on the adjacent sheep pasture. And on the other side of Ingleborough, there is a striking increase in bird song as soon as you leave the barren sheep pasture and on to Scar Close, where grazing has been excluded for about 40 years. An added indicator is that in the last year red squirrels have been spotted near Colt Park, near the Station Inn at Ribblehead, and further down Chapel-le-Dale.

Why is all this important? We are losing species faster than any time in our history. It’s already being talked about as a “Great Extinction” on the scale of the disappearance of the dinosaurs. Many people no longer subscribe to a world view that we have a divine right to the Earth, and everything on the Earth was put there for our use. But aside from this, there is a great deal of self-interest. Denuding the upland slopes is contribution to flooding downstream - wooded hillsides slow the downward flow of water and make it more manageable. Many medicines owe their origin to plants; we are facing an antibiotic crisis, and since we don’t know where we will find the next generation of drugs, it’s foolish to carelessly allow any plant to go to extinction. In recent years the Sarpo series of potato varieties have been obtained by back crossing with wild relatives to improve blight resistance. It just doesn’t make sense for our long term future to follow a pattern of agriculture which denudes the natural world. And there are immediate benefits - just as cavers contribute to the economy of the area, so do the many people who come to see and learn about the flowers, birds and other wildlife which is being encouraged by more sustainable habitat management.

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