LEADERS of a national park in Vietnam recently visited the Yorkshire Dales and found out about a new nature recovery woodland planting project being carried out.

During their two-day tour of the Dales national park, the leaders of the Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, which has a similar geology to the Yorkshire Dales and is also popular for its caves, visited a new native woodland site near Hawes - one of the largest to be created in England.

The director of Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, Phạm Hồng Thái, inspected some of the 87,000 saplings planted during the winter at the Woodland Trust’s new 561 hectare - about 1,380 acres - ‘Snaizeholme Estate and said he would take home ideas for his national park, where efforts are being made to restore areas affected by illegal logging.

Alec Pue, Wooland Trust site manager, led the Vietnamese guests through part of the new planting which was once woodland, has been planted without the use of plastic tree guards and is 'free to roam'.

He said: “This was sheep grazing land. A long, long time ago it would all have been woodland.

"Our aim is to try to kickstart and encourage what would have been here, and then in the long term let natural processes take over. The riverside meadows in the valley bottom will be left largely unplanted, as the land is used by wading birds. We also have peatland and limestone pavement which will complement the mosaic of habitats we have on the site. Our focus is on nature recovery, but this land is free to roam. People can walk through it. We want to work sensitively and carefully with the local community and the national park authority on access.”

The Vietnamese visitors were keen to enquire about the cost of the woodland creation. Mr Pue explained that each of the saplings cost close to 70p each, including planting and associated costs, with the trees having being sourced from a nursery near Hexham. One of the main costs was installing livestock and rabbit-proof fencing around the long perimeter of the site, he explained.

Speaking through an interpreter Phạm Hồng Thái said: “The Yorkshire Dales National Park has a similar geology to Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park. People visit us for the caves, too. So I wanted to see how the national park authority is doing its job here, and how they are managing visitors and helping nature recovery."

He added: “I am excited by what I see here (in Snaizeholme). It’s a good idea to have trees here, conserve the wildlife and keep the waters in this area.”

Alan Hulme, head of park management at the park authority, also addressed the tour party during the Snaizeholme visit. He said: “This Woodland Trust scheme is an exemplar project for adapting to climate change. During heavy rain water comes down fast from Snaizeholme. If we can slow water coming off the fells through woodland creation, we can help protect people downstream in cities like York. It’s also a great example of a nature recovery project – restoring a mosaic of different, highly valuable habitats.”

The four-person party from Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park were brought to the Yorkshire Dales by Oxalis Adventure, a tour operator in Vietnam. The work at Snaizeholme is being funded by the White Rose Forest through its ‘Trees for Climate’ funding programme. Trees for Climate is part of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ ‘Nature for Climate Fund’, which provides grants for woodland creation within all Community Forest areas in England. The land at Snaizeholme was acquired by the Woodland Trust thanks to the generosity of individual supporters, charitable trusts and corporate partners.

The vast and steep fellsides of the woodland creation site in Snaizeholme, still look like pastures as the saplings are only knee height and – strikingly – not a single plastic tree guard has been used - in contrast to most other new planting schemes.

It is hoped the planting at Snaizeholme will become a flagship woodland creation project for the White Rose Forest, the community forest for North and West Yorkshire, which also includes planting at the Broughton Hall estate, Skipton, and the Northern Forest, a partnership between the Woodland Trust and some of the community forests in the north of England.

The project as a whole will help achieve the objectives of the ‘Dales Woodland Strategy’, put together by the Dales Woodland Forum. The strategy sets an ambition to enhance the landscape by creating 6,000 hectares - about 14,800 acres - of woodland habitat in the Yorkshire Dales National Park by 2030. That would take the area of the national Park covered by woodland from 4.3 per cent to seven per cent.

England’s tree cover is just 12.8 per cent, according to the research by Friends of the Earth, with only 10 per cent made up by woodland – paling in comparison with the EU, where woodland cover stands at 38 per cent.

There is also more than 100 hectares of upland peatbog at the Snaizeholme Estate, crucial carbon sinks. The trust plans to restore them, working with the Yorkshire Peat Partnership With 21 streams, amounting to 42km in length, running down into Snaizeholme Beck, there is a huge amount of work needed to slow the headlong rush of flood water during heavy rains that ends up in the middle of York three or four days later.