Hi-tech salvation for oaks

Nick Short from the Forestry Commission with a veteran oak tree in the Deer Park, near Helmsley, where a new expanded SSSI has been approved. submitted photo by Richard Darn.
Nick Short from the Forestry Commission with a veteran oak tree in the Deer Park, near Helmsley, where a new expanded SSSI has been approved. submitted photo by Richard Darn.

They are thought to have taken root way back in the 15th century when the War of the Roses was effectively brought to an end with the death of 
Richard III.

But modern methods have been used to ensure that the most important area of oak trees in the north of England is set to be preserved for generations to come.

Satellite tracking devices have been employed to map out the exact locations of hundreds of the veteran oaks as part of a conservation project spanning the past two decades.

And Natural England officials have now confirmed 345 acres of woodland on the fringes of the North York Moors National Park have been awarded protected status. The decision to designate the wood as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) has been heralded as vital to ensuring the future of the trees.

The woodland at Castle Hill Deer Park, near Helmsley, had previously harboured two much smaller SSSIs which covered almost 40 acres, but these have now been absorbed into the wider protected area.

A forester at the Forestry Commission, Nick Short, said: “We welcome this move to grant protected legal status to a much greater area, which underlines the value of the long term restoration work we are doing and our management of wildlife habitats. This is a fantastic place of outstanding national significance with a priceless ecosystem. But it is also an irreplaceable asset and enshrining protection over a much greater area is good news for biodiversity and for future generations.”

The Forestry Commission has undertaken the restoration of nearly 20 acres of the fragile habitat by slowly removing conifers planted in the 1970s and allowing native trees to regenerate. Conifers made it difficult to find and map the trees and orienteers were even used to penetrate the woodland and discover the ancient specimens.

Just over a decade ago national tree expert Ted Green deployed GPS devices to fix the location of up to 450 veteran trees. The area was re-surveyed in 2006 using funding from environmental organisation the SITA Trust, and the North York Moors National Park Authority leading to further discoveries.

Mr Short said: “We now know that we have 511 veteran trees, of which 80 per cent are alive and potentially capable of regenerating.”