UK: Cutting down trees in the name of conservation


In an unusual twist of irony the Forestry Commission plan to fell 170,000 trees in the name of conservation.

The site of the conifer sacrifice is May Moss, which is the largest and deepest blanket bog in the North York Moors and was created at the end of the last Ice Age. The North York Moors National Park is one of the largest examples of internationally important moorland in the UK and its importance is underlined by Forestry Commission Regional Development Manager Vince Carter:

“Bogs like May Moss act as a natural sponge. Working with nature by keeping such areas in good condition is one way land can be managed more effectively to lesson the severity of flooding. The scheme also delivers other key benefits, including restoration of a rare habitat and boosting local wildlife."

picture of scientist surveying moorlandThe felling of 170,000 conifers over a 70 hectares site will allow more of May Moss to revert to boggy moorland, which in turn will help plants like sphagnum moss re-colonise the landscape. These tactics may seem a diversion from Forestry Commission practices of old, but as we reported recently from the Border Mires landscape scale restoration projects are all part of a new philosophy for the UK’s biggest land manager.

Trees were planted on the site throughout the 20th century to bolster the nation’s depleted timber reserves but they also sucked moisture from the bog, slowly drying it out and reducing the quality of the peat. Using techniques employed in the Border Mires drains will be blocked to hold water in the new tree-less landscape.

Petra Young from the Forestry Commission

measures the depth of peat on May Moss

The project, funded by the SITA trust, will cost nearly £200,000 and will benefit more than the wildlife as Brian Walker, Wildlife Officer, from the Forestry Commission explains: “Conservation is the driving force behind the plan. But plants and wildlife are not the only beneficiaries. May Moss stores a vast amount of rain water, helping to regulate the run off into streams, rivers and settlements downstream. A bigger and healthier bog will be more effective in soaking up cloud bursts and also in keeping rivers levels more stable during drier periods by slowly releasing the water.”