National Trust planting 90,000 trees at Wimpole Hall in its largest ever green project

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The National Trust is planting 90,000 trees at Wimpole Hall in Cambridgeshire in its largest ever project of the kind. 

The charity said it aimed to plant nearly 300 acres of woodland (120 hectares) on the 2,471-acre estate. 

The project will see 2,000 native apple trees put in - 39 different varieties with six types grown for harvesting and juicing to include Ashmead’s Kernel, Egremont Russet and Greensleeves.  

The team aims to generate income from growing apples, while still being able to harvest cereal crops.

David Hassall, farm manager at Wimpole said the trees would link established areas of woodland and allow the rare Barbastelle bat population to travel between the woods, with cereal crops growing in between. 

He said: “The apple trees will provide food for pollinators, particularly bees when blossom emerges in the spring and the wildflower-rich strips the trees are planted in will support a range of wildlife."

The north front of Wimpole Hall, Cambridgeshire Credit: NT Images/Andrew Butler/PA

The trust said the planting would be completed by the middle of March despite the challenges of the recent stormy weather.

The project has funded by £1.3 million from the Government’s Green Recovery Challenge Fund and HSBC UK. 

The tree planting programme will also help with the conservation charity’s ambitions to become net carbon zero by 2030.

The trust said one of the biggest challenges facing landowners was how to manage the land to mitigate the effects of climate change while still making a profit. 

To tackle the issue the team is now planting 79 acres (32 hectares) of new woodland, 121 acres (49 hectares) of wood pasture and 96 acres (39 hectares) of agroforestry. 

Surveys were carried out to work out the best places to plant the trees and identify any archaeological remains. Some significant discoveries resulted in alterations to the planting plans to preserve these sites. 

Impact 'that will last for generations to come'

The team also worked closely with the Woodland Trust, Natural England, RSPB, Historic England and Forestry England. 

Project manager Jason Sellars said: “This tree planting is the beginning of something exciting that will last for generations to come. In stark contrast to our ancestors, we’re planting areas of woodland to capture carbon rather than to give us fuel, while also creating new habitats for wildlife."

He said the native trees being planted included 14 different species including oak, hornbeam, wild cherry, field maple and birch, plus 10 species of shrubs including hawthorn, hazel and spindle. 

Archaeologist Angus Wainwright, who led the historic studies of the estate, said: “Wimpole has always been a place of dynamic change. Many might think that Wimpole seems a bit of timeless English countryside but really it has never stood still.

“Through the research we’ve conducted we’ve uncovered the waxing and waning of tree planting which has been going on at Wimpole for centuries, and we are continuing that trend."

To make sure the team has a clear picture of how the tree planting might affect biodiversity and wildlife numbers in the future a baseline ecology survey has been carried out.

Twelve volunteers have been trained over the past 10 months to ensure accurate and regular records can be maintained.

National Trust ecologist Alison Collins said the survey had already identified high numbers of rare species thriving on the estate.

“Particular highlights included bee, pyramidal and common spotted orchids in the wildflower-rich field margins where we also recorded 28 species of butterfly; marbled whites, ringlet, meadow brown and gatekeepers in particularly high numbers, with good numbers of common blue and small heath.

“As the trees start to grow and the new habitats become established, we obviously hope to see these numbers increase, but also that other wildlife moves in, such as additional bat and butterfly species attracted to the new areas of woodland and other habitats.”