Agroforestry and archaeology at Wimpole
The Woodland Trust (WT) has once again teamed up with the National Trust (NT) in an ambitious scheme to plant over 90,000 trees on the Wimpole Estate in Cambridgeshire. The WT’s central England outreach team are working with the NT to support them in the design and management of the scheme. Thanks to funding from the Green Recovery Challenge Fund, a variety of tree species will be planted over the 2500 acre estate, 120ha in total will be planted resulting in the creation of multiple agroforestry, woodland and wood pasture sites.
There’s a lot of planting to do in a short time, a dedicated team of NT rangers and volunteers will be taking the lead role in planting the wood pasture sites, with agroforestry and woodland planting being carried out by contractors. Farming and wildlife have always gone hand in hand at Wimpole and the scheme capitalises on this approach.
Agroforestry is a type of land management which combines trees and shrubs with crop and livestock farming systems. This approach is beneficial to farming and wildlife, not only does it enhance farm productivity, but it improves soil health and increases biodiversity as well as bringing many other benefits. Across the Wimpole estate, a number of agroforestry sites are planned, which will cover a total area of 40ha. Apple and elder trees will be planted, which will total 1995 trees altogether. One of the agroforestry sites will be planted with 50 different varieties of East Anglian heritage fruit trees. The harvested fruits from this site and others will then be pressed and the resulting juice sold in local National Trust shops.
Another land management approach, wood pasture is land that is managed through grazing. These can be ancient or more recent woodlands, some started as medieval hunting forests or wooded commons and others designed as part of the landscape of a large estate. On Wimpole, 47ha of wood pasture will be planted, which amounts to 15,472 trees. Here is where the brilliant volunteers are stepping in to lend a hand with planting the mixture of native broad-leaved trees.
Further to this, woodland will be planted on 32ha of the site, where the bulk of the trees will go into the ground, all 73,485 of them! To protect the young saplings, deer fencing will be used along with biodegradable spirals and where this isn’t viable, recyclable plastic tubes, with a plan in place for them to be collected and processed for recycling in the future.
A small grove will also be planted at Wimpole. The trees for this area are gratefully received from the inmates at Doncaster prison who collected acorns from the Major Oak and Parliament Oak found at Sherwood Forest and grew them into saplings.
Before any trees go into the ground work needs to be completed to design each of the sites and this preliminary step revealed a number of surprising and interesting finds. One aspect of the Green recovery challenge fund project was to carry out geophysical surveys on the proposed planting sites. Unexpectedly, on one of the sites this revealed a number of archaeological features, including a possible roman settlement to the south and a possible iron age settlement to the north. Consequently, no trees were planted on that site! Other features of historical interest included a possible henge, roman villa and hotspots positioned close to the Ermine Way. One such feature is thought to be the remains of a farm and blacksmith, the equivalent of a medieval motorway services!
During the design phase we consulted with Historic England and planned the planting so that it wouldn’t have an impact on Wimpole estate’s historic views, both looking towards the hall and back out across the landscape. Allowing these areas to remain open will preserve the vistas of this picturesque countryside.
The scheme has been designed to support the abundance of wildlife species on site, with corn buntings, barbastelle bats and turtle doves featuring in plans. A bird survey recorded corn bunting nesting on one of the proposed planting areas, so we relocated the planting to ensure that no nesting birds were disturbed. On other parts of the site corridors and open areas have been created to support the barbastelle bat population, providing nursery, roost and feeding habitats. A pond creation project also took place, the ponds designed to provide just the right habitat for turtle doves. We’ve teamed up with the RSPB and any turtle dove sightings will be reported as part of their turtle dove project.
By Amanda Brookes (Volunteering Development Officer – Central England) and Stuart Holm (Outreach manager – Central England)
Feature image by Robert Read
Turtle Dove image by Tony Cox
All other images by Stuart Holm