Ann Favell, a volunteer for the Woodland Trust, explains how Heartwood Forest near St Albans is playing a part in the county's future...
STEPPING out into open pastures to the north of Sandridge in Hertfordshire, you could be forgiven for thinking you were taking a walk in the typical English countryside. But look more closely and you will realise you are stepping into the future, the future of the largest new native forest to be planted in England. This is Heartwood Forest; a site that has to be seen to be believed.
Heartwood Forest is The Woodland Trust’s biggest woodland creation project. With ambition on a grand scale, they have taken on over 850 acres of land and will plant 600,000 broadleaved trees. Idyllic wildflower meadows, enchanting glades and secluded woodlands are also planned for the site and the work to achieve these aims is already underway.
Lifeline for nature
So why does The Woodland Trust want to take on such a huge project? The answer is simple: England’s few existing forests are increasingly under threat from pollution and developers and The Woodland Trust wants to preserve and create these precious places for nature and our future generations to enjoy. Not only that, it is recognised that woods and trees help reduce pollution and encourage exercise.
It is already species-rich with threatened birds such as yellowhammers, linnets and bullfinches and mammals such as Natterer’s and Long-eared bats. There are also over 20 different species of butterfly that have been recorded on site. Newly created habitats will encourage even more species to make their homes there and help to keep the rich heritage of this land ticking over, enhancing local biodiversity.
New planting is carefully taking place around three existing pockets of ancient woodland, the UK equivalent of rainforests. These ancient wooded areas bloom with bluebells during April and May and are an assault on the senses with their vivid blue hues and heady aroma. The bluebells have been on site for thousands of years with the entire area’s rich history dating back from prehistoric times through Neolithic and Iron Ages, to Roman occupation.
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Volunteers at its heart
The Woodland Trust has pledged that every new tree that is planted to help grow Heartwood Forest will be planted by a volunteer. A brave pledge from them, affording a special opportunity for those who wish to get more closely involved. Community groups, local schools and colleges and individual volunteers have all stepped up in their wellies to help plant trees, leaving at the end of each day with a feeling that they have done something memorable and left their mark on something that will grow throughout their lifetime and beyond.
Having started planting in 2009 with many species of the trees becoming firmly established within a short 12-year period, volunteers have already planted a magnificent 210,000 trees. But there is still a long way to go. Creating a new forest comes at a cost. An ongoing fundraising campaign to raise �10.4 million to buy, plant and manage the site is in full swing. So far over �8 million has generously been raised through sponsorship, events and donations.
As long as this generosity continues, it will enable the forest to flourish and be cared for, benefitting both ourselves and wildlife into the future.
Find out more
If you would like to connect with nature on a grand scale at Heartwood Forest whether to take a walk, run, family ramble, cycle or get involved with the work at Heartwood, the site is free to visit and open all year round. You can find out more at www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/heartwood, email email@example.com or follow the forest blog for the most up to date news and events at www.heartwoodforest.wordpress.com