Rangers at Longshaw are preparing to open a new path for older people and visitors with wheelchairs and pushchairs.
The new family-friendly trail should open in May, and will take visitors who might struggle on a longer walk on a half kilometre route from the car park through Lodge Woods, passing the remains of a Victorian ice house, and over two new rustic bridges.
“The new trail will be readily accessible for young children and people with limited mobility who might not ordinarily have the chance to explore a woodland with a stream, and see all the wildlife associated with it,” said Rachel Bennett, Lead Ranger for the National Trust at Longshaw.
The woods at Longshaw include trees planted in the past by estate staff, such as beech, firs and sycamore not native to the area, some of which have started to die and struggle after climate change has turned once-dry areas of woodland much wetter. Some trees have also been damaged by the Longshaw grey squirrel population.
“Adolescent grey squirrels who have no territory seem to take their frustration out by gnawing bark, and sometimes ‘ring barking’ all the way round, which can kill off a tree or a branch,” said ranger Chris Milner.
Around twenty trees have been removed or cut back near the new path and around a children’s play and den building area, and an old squirrel-gnawed beech hedge will be replaced by hundreds of hazels, hawthorns and hollies, all native upland Peak District species. Ten more beech trees were removed near paths and tracks, with species like willow and alder (which should cope better with wetter soil) to be planted nearby.
Rachel said: “People may notice there have been some changes, with trees removed and some tree surgery, but it’s all part of a plan to improve habitats and keep our visitors safe. Trees do decline, and that’s an issue in places people visit.”
For example, beeches and horse chestnuts are prone to ‘summer branch drop’ where heavy branches can fall with little more warning than a sharp crack from above. Possibly caused by water stress in hot weather, this is one reason trees have to be monitored, said Rachel. A large beech near the new path had a ‘crown reduction’ to remove potentially dangerous branches, for example.
“The risk of a beech branch falling as you pass is very small, and far less than going out in a car every day,” she stressed.
In a more natural English woodland fallen trees leave gaps of sunlight for flowers and insects to thrive along with new seedlings from the fallen tree, and staff are aiming to replicate that process with a mixture of younger and older trees in the estate’s woods which will encourage a wide variety of birds, insects and flowers - and squirrels.
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