FARMER Neil Heseltine has planted his first ever tree, assisted by the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority’s youngest members of staff, and it was a memorable occasion for him and the group he was with.

The Authority’s deputy chairman planted a hazel sapling just before Christmas at Freeholders’ Wood, near Aysgarth Falls, to signal during National Tree Week that woodland creation is becoming ever more important for the Authority and the Dales.

The 25-year Dales Woodland Strategy will come to an end in March next year.

The target set in 1995 was to double the area of native broadleaved woodland in the Park by 2020, by creating 2000 hectares of new woodland. This is looking certain to be met.

However, despite the significant planting work of the past two and a half decades, trees still cover only five per cent of the Yorkshire Dales National Park, the lowest of any UK National Park except the Broads.

Mr Heseltine, who farms in Malhamdale, said: “We’ve had one area of our farm given over to woodland, and had some hedging put in, but this is the first time I’ve planted a tree myself. It’s great to be doing this with the younger staff, because tree planting is about looking to the future.

“The next 25-year Dales Woodland Strategy is being put together now by all the partners involved. We are looking to set an even more ambitious target this time round. We need more trees in the Yorkshire Dales National Park because they produce a renewable resource while sequestrating carbon and providing vital wildlife habitats.”

He added: “We know that farmers and landowners are running businesses, and it’s important that the right schemes are in place to make woodland creation good for business.”

After the planting of Mr Heseltine’s hazel, fifteen members of the YDNPA youth forum team, gathering for the second of two annual youth forum activity days, heard a talk on woodland management before planting a further 49 hazel trees in the wood.

One of those young members of staff was Lucy Scott, communications apprentice with the YDNPA..

She described the thrill of being part of the team in helping establish the new trees for the future and, like Mr Heseltine, was thrilled to have planted her first tree, too.

She said: “If you had asked me only a couple of months ago, can you see yourself planting trees in the Yorkshire Dales in the near future? I would have quite honestly said no.

"Not because I have any kind of aversion to trees, or getting hands-on and dirty in the outdoors – it’s simply because I never saw the opportunity being presented to me.

“I came along to one of the activity days set up by the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, during which, I got the opportunity to proudly plant my first tree.

“This was the first Youth Forum activity day I’d ever attended as I have just recently started my position as communications apprentice with the national park authority.

"The concept of the Youth Forum is quite simple; it gives us, young staff of the National Park Authority, a voice to let our opinions be heard. Every year there are two annual Youth Forum activity days. These provide the opportunity for young people within the National Park to meet up so that we can enjoy a day filled with learning, stimulation, bonding, and of course fun.

"This is exactly how I would describe the second youth forum activity day in Freeholders’ Wood.

"The day began bright and early. I swapped my usual office attire for waterproofs and a woolly hat and, despite my precautions, I was hopeful that the weather would remain dry.

"Myself and the other members of the youth forum all made our way to Aysgarth Falls National Park Centre. We gathered to meet up and distribute equipment to be carried down to the site. For myself and some others, this was our first time meeting the other members of the forum and it was great to socialise!

“We made our way down to the planting area where we had a fascinating talk by one of the woodland team specialists – senior trees and woodlands officer Geoff Garrett.

“The day finished off with some bushcraft activities with forest school teacher Kirsten Civil. This session included making our own wooden mallets (and) searching for hazelnuts that weren’t already nibbled (by squirrels).

“We also made a fire pit with a tripod to hang our cauldron of vegetable soup. The weather thankfully held out, therefore we were able to light a fire successfully. We used the fire to cook hazelnut bread and cakes

“Days like this make it all worthwhile, and I am proud to be a young person working in the Dales.”