How an engineering company helped create new woodlands in Hyndburn and the Ribble Valley

Peel Bank Trust founder Gordon Swindells walking through woodland.

Peel Bank Trust founder Gordon Swindells walking through woodland. - Credit: Archant

The Peel Bank Woodland and Conservation Trust is working to plant more trees at sites across Lancashire

Peel Bank Trust founder Gordon Swindells in the 1970s.

Peel Bank Trust founder Gordon Swindells in the 1970s. - Credit: Archant

A revolutionary move to offset carbon emissions in 1989 by the managing director of a small engineering company is today prompting the planting of more trees in Hyndburn and the Ribble Valley.

During the very early years of the concept of global warming and using trees to sequester carbon, Gordon Swindells made it his mission to make the company – situated at Peel Bank Works in Church, Accrington – carbon neutral.

With the help and research of the biological science department at The University of Manchester, Emerson & Renwick calculated its carbon emissions, how many trees and on how much land it would need to offset those emissions. It funded student research projects into the efficient use of energy, tree growth and the long term storage of carbon in wood products to reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere.

‘It was one of the first companies to look at doing that,’ says Gordon’s daughter Laura Taylor. The company made regular contributions to purchase land and fund tree-planting in local areas until 2002, but when Gordon retired, the project was turned into an independent self-funded charity, the Peel Bank Woodland and Conservation Trust, and split off from the engineering company. Laura has been a trustee there for the last 30 years.

Spring at the Peel Bank Trust

Spring at the Peel Bank Trust - Credit: Archant

‘From then on, we have developed it,’ Laura says. ‘It did its original purpose in the fact they planted trees to a level to absorb that carbon, but when my father retired, the company expanded and lost touch with the charity. We’ve since maintained the land and planted trees. It’s essentially a nature reserve, looking after wild spaces in the area.’

The charity has several sites and manages more than 24 acres across the Ribble Valley and Hyndburn areas of Lancashire, including its first site, Peel Bank Works Reserve in Church; Higher Elker Woods in Billington and Clough’s Ground on Whalley Old Road. The thought behind the conservation is that the spaces are kept for creatures and animals to enjoy, rather than be disrupted by too much public intervention.

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The idea is to encourage plant diversity in the woodlands by ensuring a variety of light levels, from deep shade to open glades, and regularly pruning, coppicing and felling failing trees. Leaving dead wood and old trees encourages woodpeckers and tree creepers, which feed off the insects and beetles that colonise wood piles.

The woodland is not open to visitors, but the Trust does welcome students for educational purposes or to those carrying out research.

Woodland at the Peel Bank Trust.

Woodland at the Peel Bank Trust. - Credit: Archant

Its next step is to develop its tree-planting scope with the help of national charity the Woodland Trust. It’s early days but Laura hopes the relationship will open the doors to the two sharing expertise and expanding the acreage of its woodland.

‘We have got quite a lot of grazing land (for sheep) which we currently let, so we’re looking at doing a lot more extensive planting of trees and possibly acquiring some more land closer to our largest site in Billington, so that the cover of trees in that area would be quite significant,’ Laura says. ‘Apparently Lancashire has one of the lowest tree coverages in the country.’

The Peel Bank Trust is also working on a book donation project, distributing copies of The Lost Words to local primary schools.

The project is on pause at the moment because of Covid-19, but it was launched late last year to celebrate the group’s 30th anniversary in a move to help youngsters get back in touch with words from the natural world which have been removed from the Oxford Children’s Dictionary. Words like acorn, buttercup and conker have been replaced with others including attachment, broadband and chatroom.

Flowers in the woodland at the Peel Bank Trust

Flowers in the woodland at the Peel Bank Trust - Credit: Archant

In response, nature writer Robert Macfarlane and illustrator Jackie Morris created a ‘book of spells’ to reintroduce the newly excluded words to children in a way that was designed to be read aloud.

‘They conjure up the idea of these plants and creatures that had been taken out of the dictionary,’ Laura says.

‘Part of our thinking behind the donation of these books – and particularly for us as a conservation charity – is that children respond very much to the natural world.

‘It’s all very well looking at ice caps melting and polar bears disappearing, but actually until you understand nature on your doorstep and your eyes are opened to it, then everything else is very remote.

Spring at the Peel Bank Trust

Spring at the Peel Bank Trust - Credit: Archant

‘Polar bears and tigers are a long way off, but a kingfisher is something you could see on the river down the road.’

It’s become quite obvious during this crisis that being outside and around trees is ‘absolutely essential’ to our mental health, Laura says.

To her, trees are things of great beauty and benefit: they absorb carbon dioxide, retain water (crucial in areas of flooding) and provide habitats for everything from creepy crawlies to large birds.

‘Apart from the fact they look beautiful, I think it just improves the wellbeing of people when they are close to trees,’ Laura adds. ‘It’s an exciting idea that we’re going to be planting a lot more over the next few years.’

Woodland at the Peel Bank Trust

Woodland at the Peel Bank Trust - Credit: Archant

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