Race against time to plant millions of trees at Kielder Forest

Tree planters can plant up to 2,000 saplings a day Credit: Forestry England

Foresters are in a race against the clock to plant three million trees before spring gets underway.

The trees are part of Forestry England's planting programme to replenish tree stocks at Kielder, England's biggest forest.

Saplings are planted by hand and must be put in the ground while the weather is cold and the roots are dormant.

  • Video report by Julia Barthram

Around 1,200 hectares of land will be planted, the size of 1,700 football pitches.

An experienced planter can plant around 2,000 trees a day.

Richard Cooper, from Forestry England, said: "The trees go into a dormancy state, the young saplings shut down for the winter, so transplanting them doesn't do as much damage to them.

"We're finding March and April have been quite warm the last few years, so we're really keen to get the trees in the ground while it's still cooler."

Planters work on rough, exposed terrain throughout the winter months. Credit: Forestry England

The planting season has been brought forward by two weeks to try and ensure all saplings are planted before the temperature rises.

Spring 2022 was the fifth warmest on record, with the mean temperature 0.8 degrees above the longterm average. 

The 2021/22 planting season was also disrupted by several storms. It's estimated 1.5 million trees were blown down by Storm Arwen at Kielder.

Professor Hayley Fowler, from Newcastle University, said: "Winters are getting warmer, they're getting wetter and they're getting more stormy.

"The last couple of winters have been particularly stormy with clusters of storms and quite extreme winds."

The trees are being adapted to varieties better suited to milder weather and hardier to storms. Seeds are being sourced from areas with milder climates, so they are used to warmer temperatures.

Kielder produces a quarter of the timber grown in England. Conifers like Sitka spruce are the main crop for the timber industry but the forest is being planted with around 50 different species.

Broadleaf trees provide habitat for wildlife and restored peatlands in the forest encourage greater biodiversity.

The types of trees planted is influenced by the wildlife native to the forest. Small seeded trees, such as birch and rowan, are chosen because they deter grey squirrels while supporting the population of red squirrels.

Foresters work to a design plan which shapes how the forest will look in 50 years time.

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