School children get involved in forest conservation work

By John Hodgson, Hardknott Forest Project Officer

Restoring Hardknott Forest is a partnership between the University of Leeds and the Forestry Commission. Since January, John has been in post as Project Officer, organising and leading volunteer days, and liaising with the Forestry Commission and the University of Leeds.

As anyone who has done some fieldwork, especially in peaty upland areas, will know, we often have to endure, ignore or somehow avoid biting midges as we work. All the more impressive then that our most recent group of volunteers at Restoring Hardknott Forest were young students from our local high school at Millom in Cumbria, who joined us on a day when the recent sunshine actually disappeared allowing the midges to emerge.

Not only did they work all day surrounded by midges (without complaint), they learnt some of the practical skills needed for native forest restoration and were able to put them into practice. For the practical work we returned to an area of previously clear felled forest which Millom School has adopted as their own mini-project. Small groups worked on clearing areas of regenerating Sitka spruce and larch and also had the opportunity to plant a few oak trees.

The visit had started with a walk through a small area of Atlantic oak wood which gave us the opportunity to point out some of the flora and fauna supported by these woods, and to give a context to the restoration of the rest of the forest. As we left the oak woods we emerged onto a forestry road where the landscape is a mixture of remaining conifer plantation, clear felled areas and areas of naturally regenerating native trees such as birch, willow and rowan. Part of the project is to monitor this regeneration using marked plots throughout the site, and we plan to involve the children and our other volunteers in this aspect of our work too.

Working with volunteers, especially when they are enthusiastic school children, is a very positive activity. This is the second year we have worked with Millom School and we hope to continue the partnership, perhaps some pupils will even become interested in working in forest conservation and restoration in the future.

One of the teachers from Millom School was kind enough to write to us after the visit and said:
“We have had a great experience over the last year working with you all – it has been brilliant to watch the students helping to sustain their own landscape – especially when they are the ones living in it!”

Hardknott Forest in Cumbria is being restored to a native broadleaf forest which will fit in better with the neighbouring ancient oak and birch woodland. It is a historic opportunity to create the largest area of semi-natural woodland in England linking Hardknott Forest with the existing woodlands in the Duddon valley, a series of ancient oak woodlands which snake down the valley all the way the coast. It is a long term process as commercial conifer species are gradually being replaced by naturally regenerating native trees and by the reintroduction of species such as oak and alder.

If anyone is interested in getting involved with the project we have regular volunteering days and a residential weekend coming up in October. Get in touch (J.H for more details.