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Research endorses National Park tree-planting strategy

Bainbridge, 14 March, 2017

Research has suggested that the trees planted in the Yorkshire Dales National Park during the past 20 years will help woodland species adapt to global warming.

It says a strategy of planting in upland gills has added to the potential for wildlife populations to shift their natural range.

Much of the Dales may be inaccessible to species which can move only short distances to colonise other woodland patches, such as the dormouse and many flowers, ferns and trees.

But the research suggests that habitat connectivity will increase by up to 25% when recently planted woods become mature.

It has also identified areas in the Dales where future planting could be most effective in supporting long-term species range shifts.

The research has been carried out by Askham Bryan College ecology lecturer, Micah Duckworth, working with conservationists at the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority (YDNPA) and the National Trust.  It formed part of a University of Leeds Master’s degree.

Mr Duckworth said: “The climate is warming and some species may need to colonise more northerly areas to survive.  The question is, how ready is the Yorkshire Dales to help threatened woodland species?  The answer is encouraging.”

The research project digitally mapped native woodland habitats across the National Park. It used a new modelling tool called Condatis, developed by scientists at the University of Liverpool.

Condatis treated each patch of woodland on the map as a conductor in an electrical circuit.  It put a virtual voltage through the landscape, resulting in maps which showed how potentially “conductive” it was for wildlife.  It also showed which woodland patches would provide the greatest benefit to the “flow” of animals.

The YDNPA’s Senior Trees and Woodland Officer, Geoff Garrett, said: “Since 1995, the National Park Authority has had a strategy to increase the area of woodland within the Park.   Around 1600 hectares has been planted.  We’re pleased that this research suggests that it is making the landscape more connected for wildlife.  

“We’ll use the modelling to inform our decisions on where to plant new woodland over the next 20 years.  We know that enabling the movement of species through the landscape will become more and more important as the effects of global warming become more apparent.”

All potential upland gill sites for planting have been mapped. When the “virtual voltage” was applied, it showed that the National Trust estate in Upper Wharfedale was a potential hotspot for facilitating long-term species movement.  

The National Trust’s Ecologist, Frances Graham, said: “The National Trust is working hard to restore and create woodland habitats on appropriate sites in the Yorkshire Dales.  We are delighted that this research endorses the approach of our Woodland Strategy and significant recent gill plantings in Langstrothdale. Condatis gives us another valuable tool to target our conservation effort for multiple benefits. We will continue to work closely with the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority to further increase the connectivity of our woodlands.”

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