Aerial laser survey for tree planting drive reveals lost woods and archaeology

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Cattle on the estate at Wallington, Northumberland (Andrew Butler/National Trust/PA)
Cattle on the estate at Wallington, Northumberland (Andrew Butler/National Trust/PA)

Aerial laser mapping of the National Trust’s largest estate is helping it plant trees where historic woodland once stood and protect archaeology, the charity has said.

An £800,000 project, funded by the Government’s green recovery challenge fund, has used “LiDAR” aerial mapping technology on 57 square kilometres (22 square miles) over the Wallington estate in Northumberland.

The survey has produced detailed information about the lay of the land, as part of efforts to plant 75,000 trees over the next few months to reverse declines in wildlife, restore natural habitats and store more carbon.

The results will help make sure the right trees are planted in the right places, the National Trust said.

Cattle on the estate at Wallington, Northumberland (National Trust/PA)
Cattle on the estate at Wallington, Northumberland (National Trust/PA)

The survey has revealed 120 new archaeological features dating back to 2000BC including early “ridge and furrow” farming systems, Roman sites and a 17th-century recreational landscape with a large water feature and surrounding walk, as well as lost historic woodlands.

Previously-recognised Iron Age camps have been surveyed with more precision.

The conservation charity said the findings would help conserve archaeology while it is hoped tree planting in areas where woods once stood will also increase the habitat benefits they provide and inform river management.

Tree planting work starts this autumn with plans to plant 13 hectares (32 acres) of native woodland with trees such as hawthorn, hazel and alder that are suited to the semi-upland conditions, and 10.5km (6.5 miles) of hedgerows.

The project aims to help endangered red squirrels, bats, white-clawed crayfish, birds and butterfly that make their home on the estate move around and thrive in better habitat and wildlife corridors.

National Trust archaeological consultant Mark Newman said: “The LiDAR findings have shone a light on much more than we could have imagined so that we can better understand the history of the landscape to help inform plans for its future.”

He said all the discoveries would be investigated further to ensure none are affecting by the planting plans and preserve the archaeology for future study.

Red squirrel at Wallington, Northumberland (Norman Scott/National Trust/PA)
Red squirrel at Wallington, Northumberland (Norman Scott/National Trust/PA)

He said: “We can now plant with confidence, selecting areas for planting that avoid damaging any significant archaeological remains.

“But, and this is one of the things we are really excited about, we can now actually recreate areas of lost historic planting which we didn’t previously know about.”

He added: “It makes sense to mirror history.

“These areas should deliver even more habitat benefit than was originally intended and once again contribute to the picturesque qualities of the landscape while also restoring lost features of the historic environment.”

The scheme at Wallington is the biggest woodland creation project so far as part of plans by the National Trust to establish 20 million trees by 2030, to help nature and tackle the climate crisis.

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