Drones to aid tree planting on steep, rocky slopes in England’s Peak District to restore ravine woodlands

Tree planting on the steep, rocky slopes of the dales in England’s Peak District is to be administered using drones for the first time as part of a project to restore the ravine woodlands.

The LIFE in the Ravines partnership project, led by Natural England, aims to tackle the threat that ash dieback poses to the forested river valleys of the Peak District.

Ash dieback disease, caused by a fungus lethal to ash trees, arrived in the Peak District in 2015. LIFE in the Ravines will help 900 hectares of forest survive this threat with a programme of tree planting and woodland management. The project will also help to counter other threats such as climate change and flooding.

Natural England – who have partnered with the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust, Staffordshire Wildlife Trust, the National Trust and the Chatsworth Estate – says the LIFE in the Ravines project won’t give up on ash altogether, but will seek out trees that might be resilient to the disease and give a helping hand to natural ash regeneration.

Planting aspen, willow and other trees will build resilience and add to the diversity of wildlife in the woods. While small and large-leaved lime and wych elm trees, historically present in the woods, will be planted to step into the spaces left behind when ash trees die.

Around 200,000 trees will be planted across several woodland areas. It is understand that drone planting trials will be carried out towards the end of the five-year project in 2024 or 2025.

In an interview with the BBC, Natural England spokesperson and senior reserve manager at the Derbyshire Dales National Nature Reserve, Joe Alsop said: “We will probably trial it on a range of different sites where planting will be really challenging.”

He explained that tree seeds would be wrapped in a small ball of fertilizer and specially-adapted drones would broadcast them on the planting site.

Sarah Fowler, chief executive of the Peak District National Park, said: “Ash woodlands in the White Peak are amongst our most cherished places in the Peak District, providing sanctuary not only for wildlife but people too. Such areas have never been more crucial to our wellbeing and ‘green recovery’ than during the recent months of the pandemic.

“LIFE in the Ravines will be at the forefront of sustainable and resilient woodlands where there is a very real risk of the landscape picture we have known for generations being dramatically altered in the years ahead.”

Natural England believe that lessons learned from the programme will be useful for others battling ash dieback across Europe, especially in other ravine woodlands in the UK such as those of the Mendips.

Rosa Medea is Life & Soul Magazine’s Chief. She writes about lifestyle including sustainable and green living. 

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