New trees planted at site ravaged by wildfire in summer heatwave

More than 5,500 trees are being planted as a landscape devastated by wildfire and drought in the summer returns to life, the Woodland Trust said.

Planting will take place at the Smithills Estate near Bolton where the Winter Hill fire, thought to have been lit by arsonists, burned through moorland and trees in July.

Around a third of the Smithills Estate, bought by the Woodland Trust in 2015, was damaged by the fire, hitting wildlife such as brown hares and common lizards.

The fire burned into the first trees planted as part of efforts to create a new “northern forest” stretching from Liverpool to Hull along the M62 corridor.

The site also suffered one of its biggest droughts this summer, putting strains on the environment of upland grassland, moorland, streams and woodlands that make up the landscape.

Smithills Estate is the largest site the Trust owns in England and is home to 1,000 species from curlews to wild garlic, but was in need of restoration and environmental management when it was taken over.

The Woodland Trust’s aim when it bought the site was to restore it by planting trees and managing the environment to boost nature.

Now, the charity is preparing to plant the first new trees since the fire, with the help of residents and community groups, as part of efforts to restore the damaged landscape.

The site has begun to regenerate (Woodland Trust/PA)
The site has begun to regenerate (Woodland Trust/PA)

Chris Waterfield, general manager at the site, said: “The fire seems like yesterday and when it hit, it was a massive state of emergency – something that as a charity we had not handled before.

“We worked round the clock with local services to bring it under control.

“Unfortunately we did lose 2,000 trees to the flames and since then we have been busy looking at how to restore the land and try and mitigate future disasters.

“Planting these trees is another step as we help the land recover from its troubled summer.”

Around 85% of the area is showing signs of natural regeneration, with grass and bracken quickly recovering, but around 15% still has bare charred earth which will need management to recover, the Woodland Trust said.

The effect on local wildlife will only become apparent after the next breeding season, the Trust said.

Recovery is being helped by £4 million of Heritage Lottery Fund money which the charity received when it bought the site, but which it needs to match fund through fundraising.

Money will go to plant new trees and re-wet the site to help wildlife recover and prevent future disasters, while the Trust will also train up volunteers to help monitor the site’s recovery is looking into investing in equipment designed to create future fire breaks.

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