Rewilding - Right Place, Wrong Species!
Had a great walk this week at Ennerdale. I think I have only 'touched' the valley before by going to see Bowness Knott, a crag by the present car park where a Peregrine falcon used to nest. This time it was the real thing from 11am to 15.30 pm walking up the valley to see the present work in what is called 'Wild Ennerdale'. We [John, Thelma and Ewan] walked roughly 8 miles stopping and starting with Woody and Susie [Border Terriers] to look and photograph the landscape and discuss the management. The whole project is run by a combination of Forestry Commission, United Utilities, Natural England and National Trust and the idea is to rewild the valley over time. The valley is 9 miles long, 3.5 miles wide (14.5 by 5.6km) at it’s widest, ridge to ridge, and extends to an area of 11,640 acres (4711 ha).
The first thing you notice is that the start of the valley is full of non native conifers! That would not be so bad if all you had to do was cut them down and start with natives. The problem being that many of these conifers are self seeding! Sitka Spruce being the most dominate. This tree is from the west coast of North America and loves our mild wet climate and is one of the fastest growing trees in the UK along with Douglas Fir and Western Red Ceder also found here. The Sitka can grow on acid soils where as the Douglas needs more fertile soils and is limited in the valley. Both have wind blown seed which in this case can spread any where in the valley. The Red Ceder is growing under Larch and Sitka and loves the shade but can grow to a giant!
A management plan drawn up in 2008 shows that the 430 Ha [ 1075 acres] covered by the Forestry Commissions land is for 'continuous cover' meaning any felling of trees must have new trees coming into replace the ones felled especially as natural regeneration. As Larch are next commonest conifer the valley is now threatened by the disease called Ramorum. This disease will leave large areas without trees as seen on this walk. Not only are there no trees but large trunks left on the ground seemingly to rot! This rewilding scheme could be running into many problems not lease the continuing spread of other tree diseases now coming to Britain. Not only on Larch but other trees like Ash, Juniper, Beech and even Oak.
This also raises the question what is a native! The British list of plants contains over 50% of its list of species arrived from other parts of the globe. Most of these are not mentioned in any way effecting the landscape but recent European laws have placed some on the 'kill' list like Himalayan Balsam which happens to be one of the best plants for honey bees in Britain! Trees have long been transported around the world with images from Queen Hatshepsut's temple in Egypt showing trees being moved from as far away as Punt [thought to be Eritrea ] to the Nile over 4500 years ago! The Sycamore has a Gaelic name and thought to be growing in Scotland for over 2500 years but still it is called 'non native' by so many organisations. This tree has the best leave litter in the UK and highest density of food for its bird and insect life even though it may be only 1 species providing the food - Green Fly!. Too many folk know so little about conservation management and are taught by the wrong teachers so the tree has been cut down in this rewilding program! The valley is full of Beech trees also under threat from diseases like Porcelain fungus and Beech Felted Coccus. This is another broad leaved tree not used by the Forestry Commission this far north as some one claims they are not native to the north! Here you find their seeds creating lots of regeneration especially under the conifers as they can grow under shade. Will this be the next tree to get the axe! Will there be any trees left after the 80 years of the re-wilding program here in Ennerdale or will the project change its name to the Pacific Rewilding project and stick with the Western Red Ceder, Sitka Spruce and Douglas Fir!