Lake District’s Hardknott Forest regeneration project shows how nature can recover.

Lake District’s Hardknott Forest regeneration project shows how nature can recover.

31st December 2020

Tree planting is a vital part of efforts to meet the UK’s pledge to reach net-zero carbon emissions, but is it the quickest way to achieve reforestation?

A project in the Lake District is taking a different approach. Hardknott Forest covers 630 acres of the Duddon Valley and since 2003, ecologists from the University of Leeds have been carefully restoring it to native woodland after decades as a conifer plantation.

Two million trees now grace the site, but unlike other reforestation programmes, only a tiny fraction have been planted by hand.

In partnership with Forestry England and with the help of volunteers, the team has instead been clearing the invasive conifers and letting nature take care of regeneration. Research to monitor progress has found between 3,000 and 4,000 trees per hectare are now growing across the site from natural regeneration.

In the past month alone, the Government has pledged more than £15 million for the planting of trees, thousands of which will be planted in plastic tubing to protect them from grazing animals – creating a mountain of waste. The Hardknott team has been forced to plant some rarer species, such as aspen, juniper and willow, but is trying to kick the plastic habit.


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