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National Trust planting 90,000 trees at Wimpole Estate in bid to reach net-zero

The move is the organisation’s largest tree planting project to date.

24 February 2022

The National Trust is carrying out its largest tree planting project to date, with 90,000 being planted at Wimpole Estate in Cambridgeshire.

It aims to help the conservation charity in its ambition to become net carbon zero by 2030, with planting done in a way that leaves space for cereal crops to grow and for rare breed cattle and sheep to graze.

Some 2,000 apple trees will be planted in rows, with the team hoping to generate an income from their juice.

Three months of planting has taken place on the 1,000 hectare (2,471 acre) estate so far, following 10 months of planning.

The north front of Wimpole Hall, Cambridgeshire, from the park. (NT Images/ Andrew Butler/ PA)
The north front of Wimpole Hall, Cambridgeshire (NT Images/Andrew Butler/PA)

Project manager Jason Sellars said: “We want to demonstrate how action to tackle climate change and to aid nature’s recovery can be undertaken in a relatively short space of time.

“This tree planting is the beginning of something exciting that will last for generations to come.

“In stark contrast to our ancestors, we’re planting areas of woodland to capture carbon rather than to give us fuel, while also creating new habitats for wildlife.

“It’s been really important to us to fully understand the context of what we are doing in light of the history of the land and the nature that already lives here.

“A full analysis of the land and consulting with partners has given us the confidence that we have selected the right areas for tree planting – and are planting the right trees in the right places.

“For instance, we’ve adapted our plans to avoid impacting existing habitats for corn buntings, a rare farmland bird species, that are already established at Wimpole.”

National Trust Ranger, Stuart Gilmore, checking the apple trees planted as part of a new area of agroforestry on the Wimpole Estate in Cambridgeshire. (Mike Selby/ PA)
National Trust ranger Stuart Gilmore checks the apple trees planted as part of the project (Mike Selby/PA)

He said 14 species of native trees have been planted, including oak, hornbeam, wild cherry, field maple and birch, plus 10 species of shrubs including hawthorn, hazel and spindle.

“The variety of trees is really important to help build resilience into the landscape in the face of a growing number of tree diseases, and to attract different birds and animals,” Mr Sellars said.

“Once all the trees are planted we’ll enter a three to five-year period where we’ll leave the trees to establish and grow before introducing livestock.”

The project was made possible by a £1.3 million investment and funding from the Government’s Green Recovery Challenge Fund and HSBC UK.

​Archaeologist Angus Wainwright, who led the historic studies of the estate, said: “Many might think that Wimpole seems a bit of timeless English countryside but really it has never stood still.

“Through the research we’ve conducted we’ve uncovered the waxing and waning of tree planting which has been going on at Wimpole for centuries, and we are continuing that trend.”

Wimpole Estate in Cambridgeshire, the site of the National Trust's largest tree planting project to date. (Mike Selby/ PA)
Wimpole Estate in Cambridgeshire is the site of the National Trust’s largest tree planting project to date (Mike Selby/PA)

He said the “biggest changes made to the estate were in the 1660s, when every element of the medieval landscape were dramatically changed over the course of just 20 years”, with “every road, field and settlement altered or removed in order to improve profitability”.

He said the park then expanded rapidly, before a drive towards intensive farming in the 20th century.

National Trust ecologist Alison Collins said an “excellent number of species” had been recorded on the estate, including 28 types of butterfly.

She continued: “As the trees start to grow and the new habitats become established, we obviously hope to see these numbers increase, but also that other wildlife moves in such as additional bat and butterfly species attracted to the new areas of woodland and other habitats.”

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