Reforesting our lands is key to safeguarding the future of Earth’s life-giving systems. However, it is of utmost importance to do it strategically in order to reap the most benefits out of planting trees. An experimental forest in England aims to showcase how to restore our forests the right way.
Old oaks for new forests
The tree-planting initiative is taking place near the Blenheim Palace in Woodstock, Oxfordshire. A few miles from the palace, lie some of Europe’s oldest oak trees, making up a medieval forest that plays a key role in the reforestation project. The acorns from the old oaks are essential to the ambitions of the experimental “super forest” that’s being planted in the area.
The Blenheim Estate received a government grant of about £1 million ($1.3 million) in funding as part of a plan that pays landowners to reserve parts of their lands for forests with public access. Overall, it serves to help the UK achieve its ambitious tree planting goals.
In the fall of 2020, the medieval oak forest experienced a “mast year,” as the trees produced an abundant crop of acorns, which the foresters collected and planted in pots at a tree nursery on the estate. “We put them in compost and just wait for them to do their thing,” says Baimbridge.
It can take several years before the saplings are mature enough to be planted out in the forest. Though it takes some time, conservationists note that the pedigree of the Blenheim oaks is definitely worth the wait. The native trees can support hundreds of different species of birds, insects, and fungi.
The UK government needs to triple its tree-planting efforts to meet its target of creating 30,000 hectares of woodland per year. Doing that strategically is key though. To make long-lasting forests, tree planting must involve a mix of different species that will provide habitat for wildlife as well as capture CO2.
That’s where Blenheim’s experimental forest stands out. Its purpose is to create a blueprint for planting biodiverse woodlands that can sequester carbon, provide nature accessible to the public, and even provide timber where possible. So far, the biodiverse woodland formula includes 27 different types of trees, including conifers of carbon sequestration, as well as broad-leafed and native trees for biodiversity (e.g. the Blenheim oaks).
The descendants of the ancient oaks will be planted on main paths, toward the periphery, and in clusters among other native trees. Conservationists will also carefully monitor the lives of trees as they grow to measure their effectiveness at removing carbon, promoting biodiversity, and generally improving the ecosystem’s wellbeing.