A Forestry England tree-planting program has been called ‘poor’ by animal welfare charities following a fire that destroyed a large wooded area.
The government agency has come under fire for apparently ignoring advice from wildlife organizations with its strategy to restore Wareham Forest in Dorset after 540 acres were destroyed in a fire last summer.
The 3,700-acre area of moorland and protected forest is one of the few places in the UK where the six native reptiles exist, including the smooth snake and the endangered sand lizard.
Forestry England, which is responsible for the site, is quickly replanting thousands of non-native pines that will partially cover the charred landscape.
In doing so, they may have missed the chance to create a “world famous moor” that would have been a refuge for reptiles, birds and rare insects.
Environmentalists say that if the moor had been allowed to recover naturally, it would have spread into a nearby moor, allowing reptiles to thrive.
The RSPB, Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust, Butterfly Conservation, Dorset Wildlife Trust and Plantlife and Amphibian have issued a joint statement criticizing Forestry England for creating a ‘poor plantation’.
Dante Munns, RSPB Regional Director, said: “No one wanted the fire to happen, but it gave us the opportunity to pause and rethink.
“We wanted the opportunity to engage with Forestry England, but found that their contractors were already there blindly replanting trees.
“Taxpayer money is being spent to create a mediocre pine plantation that could instead be world class moor.”
Imogen Davenport, Conservation Director of the Dorset Wildlife Trust, added: “The Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew recently published a ten point guide to making sure planting trees does not cause more harm than good. Sad to say this plantation fails all ten points. “
Bruce Rothnie, director of forest management for Forestry England in the south, said replanting the forest will help the environment.
He said: “The Forestry England tree planting was carried out as part of an existing forest plan, which was developed in close consultation with a range of stakeholders and local communities, including charities from nature.
“Wareham Forest’s successive plans over the past 30 years have resulted in significant moorland restoration and Forestry England has achieved more moorland restoration in Dorset than any other landowner.
“After the devastating fire, we carefully planted new trees among those that survived and thought about the best places to plant them before moving forward.
“Our work will allow these saplings to mature and really contribute to the goal of achieving net zero carbon.”