New £5 million undertaking to avoid wasting woodlands

Natural England’s LIFE in the Ravines project has been launched with £5 million of funding. 

  • The project will restore the ravine woodlands in the Peak District National Park
  • The project will tackle ash dieback in the ravines

The future of the beautiful ravine woodlands in the Peak District is looking brighter thanks to £5 million in funding.

The LIFE in the Ravines partnership project, led by Natural England, will tackle the threat that ash dieback poses to the forested river valleys of the Peak District. The project has received £3.6m in funding from the EU LIFE programme, with the remainder coming from project partners.

The Peak District’s scenic ravines are treasured by locals and visitors alike, especially during the pandemic where more people have been seeking solace in nature. LIFE in the Ravines will save several woodlands, including the iconic 5 dales of the Derbyshire Dales National Nature Reserve, such as the well-visited Lathkill. All the sites are part of the Peak District Dales Special Area of Conservation, recognised as of international importance.

Natural England’s chief executive Marian Spain, said: I’m so pleased that Natural England and its partners are able to work together to support Nature’s Recovery. This innovative project will help restore the landscape and wildlife of this much-loved area of the country following the devastation of ash die back. That means people who live and visit the Peak District will be able to appreciate the natural beauty of the woodland habitats once again and for generations to come.

Lammergeier, Peak District, summer 2020, copyright Richard Stonier, from the surfbirds galleries

Project partners include the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust, Staffordshire Wildlife Trust, the National Trust and the Chatsworth Estate. The project is also working with the Peak District National Park, Derbyshire Dales District Council, the Arkwright Society, the Forestry Commission and the Woodland Trust.

Ash dieback disease, caused by a fungus lethal to ash trees, arrived in the Peak District in 2015. The ravine forests of the Peak District are dominated by ash, so the whole woodland area could be devastated without intervention. The woods already have high levels of infection and have lost mature trees. The loss of ash threatens all the woodland wildlife, from rare beetles and moths to birds such as redstarts.

LIFE in the Ravines will help 900 hectares of forest survive this threat with a programme of tree planting and woodland management. Small and large-leaved lime and wych elm trees, historically present in the woods, will be planted to step into the spaces left behind when ash trees die. The project won’t give up on ash, it will seek out trees that might be resilient to the disease and give a helping hand to natural ash regeneration. Planting aspen, willow and other trees will build resilience and add to the diversity of wildlife in the woods.

The project will pioneer some specialist techniques, including using drones for the first time in the Peak District to aid planting on the steep, rocky slopes of the dales.

The LIFE in the Ravines programme will help these special ravine woodland ecosystems survive beyond ash dieback, thrive into the future and help counter other threats such as climate change and flooding.

The lessons learnt from the programme will be useful for others battling ash dieback across Europe, especially in other ravine woodlands in the UK such as those of the Mendips.

Natural England leads several other ambitious conservation projects that have benefitted from LIFE funding. These include Dynamic Dunescapes, working to restore sand dunes across the UK and LIFE Recreation ReMEDIES, saving seagrass and other delicate underwater habitats around our coasts.

Dave Savage, Derbyshire Wildlife Trust regional manager (Dark and White Peak), said: We are really excited to be involved in this scheme to reduce the impact of this potentially devastating disease. The woodlands managed by Derbyshire Wildlife Trust in the White Peak are dominated by ash trees meaning we will lose a great deal of our tree cover. LIFE in the Ravines will have a dramatic impact on the wildlife in the woodlands, increasing the diversity of trees but also the biodiversity of the woodlands themselves.

Julian Woolford, chief executive of Staffordshire Wildlife Trust, commented: At the end of a difficult year we are very excited about the project’s funding success. Ash dieback is really hitting hard across the UK. LIFE in the Ravines will make a big difference to protected woodlands across the White Peak.

John Everitt, forestry manager at Chatsworth Estate, added: We are very excited at Chatsworth about working alongside the other partners on this project to help restore some of the most important woodlands within the Peak District. We have observed and tracked the rapid decline of these internationally significant habitats over the past 3 years due to the onset on ash dieback. It will be fantastic to help diversify these woodlands and create resilient habitats that will hopefully stand the test of time, benefiting the environment for years to come.

Ian Clemmett, lead ranger for the White Peak Estate, National Trust, said: It’s inevitable we are going to see some big changes in our ash woodlands over the next few years because of ash dieback. LIFE in the Ravines is a tremendous opportunity to tackle those changes and to futureproof our woodlands through careful management. The National Trust is delighted to be a partner in this work, helping to conserve and enhance our woodlands here in the White Peak for the benefit of wildlife and people alike.

Sarah Fowler, chief executive of the Peak District National Park, said: Ash woodlands in the White Peak are amongst our most cherished places in the Peak District, providing sanctuary not only for wildlife but people too. Such areas have never been more crucial to our wellbeing and ‘green recovery’ than during the recent months of the pandemic. LIFE in the Ravines will be at the forefront of sustainable and resilient woodlands where there is a very real risk of the landscape picture we have known for generations being dramatically altered in the years ahead. I’m delighted to see so many partners coming together on such a pioneering approach to nature recovery in the National Park.

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