Tree planting work is now complete at Gair Wood, the new University of Leeds research woodland. Along with contractors, over 300 volunteers took part in the planting and had many questions for the project team. Some of the most frequent are answered below. For more information about the project, please email either the University of Leeds Sustainability Service (firstname.lastname@example.org) or the research team (email@example.com).
What is the project?
Gair Wood is one of the most significant woodland creation projects in the North of England. Tree planting at Gair Wood will increase biodiversity and public access, as well as providing research, teaching, and social opportunities and capturing carbon as part of the University of Leeds Climate Plan.
Gair Wood contributes to the White Rose Forest, the community forest for North and West Yorkshire, whose vision is to create a sustainable and well wooded landscape across the region, benefitting local people, the economy, and wildlife. The majority of planting took place in January and February 2023.
Why is it called Gair Wood?
Gair Wood is named after University Secretary Roger Gair, who retired in 2021 after more than 40 years at the University of Leeds. Roger planted the first tree at Gair Wood in December 2022, and planting on the site concluded at the start of March 2023.
Where has the wood been planted?
Gair Wood has been planted in the north of Leeds, near to Eccup Reservoir and adjoining the Meanwood Valley Trail. The location of the woodland will tie together several areas of green space, improving connectivity for animals and providing new footpaths for visitors to move between local parks and nature reserves.
What trees are you planting?
The new woodland is composed of over 60 thousand regionally appropriate native trees of species such as oak, hazel, and willow, planted across a 36-hectare site and selected to offer the best possible resilience to future changes in climate. Around 15 hectares of new tree planting will be added to 4 hectares of existing tree cover, with the remaining space a mix of scrubland, open spaces, and unplanted land near the neighbouring woodland from which local seeds are expected to establish. This will transform the previous grassland into a mosaic of habitats, increasing biodiversity.
Gair Wood is host to dozens of species of tree in the various glade, hedgerow and scrub habitats that have been created. Of these, the main species planted on site were oak, common alder, small-leaved lime, and Scots pine.
How long will the trees take to grow?
They’re already growing! It could take well over a hundred years before the site becomes a truly mature woodland but there are lots of exciting stages along the way and we’ll be recording each of them as the trees continue to grow.
In the first couple of years, our planted seedlings will establish their roots in the soil and grow steadily within their protective tubes so that by the end of the second summer you’ll be able to see plenty of green leaves sticking out at the tops!
After three to four years, the trees will be much more resistant to the weather and pests so we’ll be removing and recycling their protective guards.
By 2035, our saplings will have started looking much more like proper trees and the woodland will have begun to take its final shape (this is what’s illustrated in the picture below!). Different species will grow at different rates and will reach different maximum heights but by 2050 Gair Wood should look like an established woodland.
Will you eventually cut down the trees and sell them?
The woodland will primarily be managed as a community resource to improve biodiversity and to sequester carbon. As part of the management of the site we expect to have to thin the trees, to make sure that there is enough room for the remaining trees to grow, but there will be no commercial felling of the site.
What was the land used for previously?
Before it was planted the land was used for grazing cattle, meaning that there was relatively low biodiversity, with a few species of grass dominating. Gair Wood adheres to the UK Forestry Standard, which considers the agricultural value of the land to ensure that any development does not threaten food security.
Will planting this woodland be enough for the University to reach net zero emissions?
Net zero means that any greenhouse gas emissions that remain after a certain date are being balanced by processes that take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. The University of Leeds has developed a climate plan to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. The University woodland will play a small part in achieving this, as the trees will take carbon from the atmosphere as they grow. Our initial estimates suggest that after 100 years the new woodland will have taken up around 14,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide. However, the woodland alone is nowhere near enough to balance all the current emissions from the University. The net zero goal relies on substantially reducing the level of greenhouse gas emissions from the University, so while Gair Wood will help it is only part of the larger plan.
Is it just about capturing carbon?
No, the project has several other objectives. It increases the biodiversity of the land by creating a mosaic of wooded habitats of varying species and densities, interspersed with unplanted but species-rich meadows. The University also wants to create an asset for the local community which will link several green spaces in the area. Finally, the site will be developed as a venue for research and teaching, allowing us to better understand the process of woodland creation and ensure that future UK tree planting is guided by the latest research.
What sort of tree guards are you using?
If a woodland is going to survive and develop, young seedlings need to be protected from grazing mammals like deer and hares. This is typically done with tree guards, which wrap the young trees to ensure they can’t be eaten, but using tree guards has become controversial because they are usually made of plastic. One alternative is to make the guards from natural wool fibres, but unfortunately these are a relatively new product and could not be sourced in the quantities required for such a large project. Another option is “biodegradable” guards, but these only fully biodegrade under industrial composting conditions and would still need to be collected for processing off-site after use. There is also some evidence that biodegradable guards may shed more particles into the environment than standard guards, creating an overall negative effect on the soils and wildlife. The project team therefore decided to use plastic guards that are robust enough to be either reused or recycled at the end of the project. We will be hosting volunteer events to collect the tree guards once our new trees are ready to emerge. The team intends to conduct research into the effectiveness and environmental consequences of these guards.
Who are you working with?
The woodland has been developed by the University of Leeds, United Bank of Carbon and representatives from the White Rose Forest working in conjunction with Leeds City Council, Natural England, the Environment Agency, and the Forestry Commission. Funding from the White Rose Forest, United Bank of Carbon and the Forestry Commission supports the project.
Can I visit the woods?
A permissive footpath is open on the eastern side of the site, connecting it with the Eccup Whin nature reserve. Later in 2023 we aim to open a new footpath where Gair Wood runs along the Meanwood Valley Trail, taking pedestrians off a busy roadside and onto the site. Finally, when the trees are well established (estimated 2028), the University intends to open a new route across the site, connecting several green spaces, with large areas of the woodland around the path ultimately being accessible to the visiting public.
The permissive footpaths will be unpaved and uneven in some places, so walking boots are recommended when accessing the new paths. Access to the paths will be via gates – no climbing over stiles is required.
Can I volunteer to help out?
Yes! Now that planting is complete, volunteering at the site is being coordinated by the University of Leeds Sustainability Service. Contact them via firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are an academic interested in research collaboration, or are a student looking to base their dissertation project at Gair Wood or gaining some research experience you can contact email@example.com.