The River Stewardship Company is proud to be supporting the creation of an ambitious new woodland creation project at Gair Wood in Leeds, led by the Leeds Ecosystem, Atmosphere & Forest (LEAF) Centre at the University of Leeds.
Gair Wood is a significant woodland creation project for the North of England, with the primary aim to increase biodiversity and public access in the area through large scale tree planting, as well as providing research, teaching and social opportunities and capturing carbon as part of the University of Leeds Climate Plan.
Named after former University of Leeds Secretary Roger Gair, who retired in 2021 after more than 40 years’ service, Gair Wood forms part of the White Rose Forest, the community forest for West and North Yorkshire.
The White Rose Forest’s vision is to create a sustainable and well wooded landscape across the region that benefits local people, the economy and wildlife. The important tree planting work undertaken here at Gair Wood will help contribute to its goal of ‘7 million more trees by 2025’.
Spanning across a 36-hectare site, the River Stewardship Company had been contracted to lead the major tree-planting work that has seen around 20 hectares of new trees added to the 4 hectares of existing tree cover and resulted in the 66,000 regionally appropriate broadleaved species trees now planted here.
The remaining space is a mixture of open spaces and unplanted land near the adjacent woodland from which local seeds are expected to establish, transforming the grassland into a variety of habitats and thus increasing biodiversity.
The RSC is proud to have supplied a team to advise on the planning and delivery of the project as well as providing site operatives to implement work on the ground.
Working together with a number of subcontractors, including its own Riverlution CIC trainee river stewards, the RSC site operatives were at times collectively planting around 450 trees an hour across the whole site to ensure that the newly planted trees were embedded by the end of the season. An impressive 6000 trees were also planted by local volunteers attending community engagement days organised by the University of Leeds.
The trees and protective fencing were funded by the White Rose Forest, via their Trees for Climate programme and, for RSC works, sourced from a local supplier at The Arium, Leeds.
Speaking about the Gair Wood tree planting project and its contribution to the White Rose Forest vision, RSC Managing Director - Brendon Wittram said:
“The RSC is proud to supply its expertise and knowledge to the planning and delivery of this exciting woodland creation project. Being able to provide a contractor’s perspective on works really helped the designers understand the practicalities of such a large-scale planting programme, and our site operative team did a great job collaboratively working on the logistics, delivery, organising, planting and GIS data recording for the project which was completed ahead of schedule.
The White Rose Forest is such an important asset for the people who live and work here, and for me personally, a key outcome of this project is the knowledge that this work will be there in hundreds of years’ time, helping to mitigate climate change and provide a place for people to enjoy for many years.”
RSC site operative Joseph Towers is also a Leeds resident who echoes the sentiment of long-term gain for the local community:
"Trees are vital in taking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and the tree planting work we undertake here not only increases biodiversity, it creates public access to clean air and natural resources.
Being a site operative does require me to remove trees on occasion, so it felt good to be here creating a woodland that will encourage more people to spend time outdoors. At times, I and colleagues each planted around 300 trees per day for 5 weeks to ensure all of the trees were in the ground before the end of February, to allow the saplings a chance to establish prior to the growing season.
It’s great to think that as a Leeds resident myself, I can go up there in years to come and watch the woodland I helped create grow and mature.”
The project is funded by the White Rose Forest through their Trees for Climate grants programme, part of Defra’s Nature for Climate Fund, with support from Leeds City Council and the Forestry Commission.
Dr Cat Scott, Academic Lead for Gair Wood, University of Leeds says:
“The project team are hugely grateful to RSC for helping to make Gair Wood a reality. RSC’s proactive and flexible approach meant that we’ve been able to create a range of habitat types across this site, with different species compositions and densities of planting. This variation across the site will enable us to study the way that different woodland types grow and affect the wider environment around them”
James Wright, the Senior Maintenance Manager at University of Leeds, highlighted that:
"RSC did a very good job in a very tight schedule and delivered the planting before the 1st March- a crucial deadline for ensuring seedling survival and growth on site."
The Gair Wood project is a part of the University of Leeds Climate Plan, which includes the aim of reaching net zero greenhouse gas emissions from the University by 2030. Tree planting will help offset carbon dioxide emissions which other initiatives in the Climate Plan are not able to fully eliminate, as well as providing opportunities for both students and staff to engage in research and teaching on the site.
For more information on Gair Wood and University of Leeds’ plan for the project, visit www.leaf.leeds.ac.uk/gairwood