Thousands of young Peak District trees have started their spring growth with hardly anyone to see it this year.

And under the current Covid-19 lockdown, that’s how it has to be, says Jon Stewart, Peak District general manager for the National Trust.

“Over the last few years we’ve planted more than 100,000 new broad leaf saplings, species like oak, birch, hawthorn, rowan and alder in the Dark  Peak cloughs, along with trees like lime and field maple in the White Peak,” he says .

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“Some of those young trees will now be coming into leaf and we’re usually delighted for people to come and see how that planting is helping the wildlife and environment of the Peak District.

“However, because we want to support the government and the national park a uthority by urging the public to take their daily exercise near their homes, we’re asking people to support our conservation work by taking a closer look at their local trees instead.” 

For example, two members of the National Trust’s Peak District ranger team have picked out favourite trees near their workplaces.

Matt North, talking about an ash tree in Edale, says: “This ash tree has grown down through the gaps in an old dry stone wall.

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“I t’s been there for probably 100 years or more and it’s just chance that it’s survived and taken off like it has.

“Ash trees like this are an inherent part of the landscape in the Peak District.”

Unfortunately, after devastating ash woodlands in continental Europe, ash dieback disease is now taking hold in the Peak District, especially the White Peak, where steep valleys like Dovedale have been dominated by ash trees for generations.

Matt says: “We’re monitoring our ash trees, and it looks like the younger trees are being hit hard.

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 “s it going to be a slow decline or very sudden with the large field trees? We don’t yet know.”

Over time, rangers hope to find ash trees which appear less prone to the disease for potential propagation.

However, it is likely new trees will also need to be planted from other species.  

Matt says: “Large field trees don’t just look nice, they’re also habitats for birds and insects, along with bats, and fungi in older trees which may have developed holes. They’re like an ecosystem on their own.”

Ted Talbot has picked a sycamore, near Castleton.

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He says: “Not so long ago, the sycamore was seen almost as the enemy of our woodlands because it was so invasive and successful. It was often called a weed. But now the sycamore is being rehabilitated as a stalwart British tree. 

“We’ve come to realise with global warming, and so many pests and diseases in our woodlands, if we want to retain our woodlands, they need to be resilient, so having a tough tree that can withstand almost anything is good.”  

Sycamores have been growing in Britain since the 1500s, and there are suggestions it may even have arrived with the Romans.

 It can grow in parks, woodlands, gardens and wilder areas, and spreads easily via its winged seeds. Its leaves attract aphids, with also bring predators like birds and beetles. 

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The existence of trees like sycamore in woodlands threatened by diseases like ash dieback can help retain a woodland environment for other wildlife, by providing food and nest sites and by holding the soil on steep valleys,  which might otherwise wash away if too many trees die. 

Ted says: “The sycamore could be one of our saviours at a time of ash dieback. They’re no longer our enemies, I’d say, but our friends.” 

Jon says The National Trust’s ‘Woods for the Future’ Peak District appeal helps fund tree planting in the Dark Peak to alleviate flood risk and improve biodiversity, and funds new native trees for the White Peak as more ash trees succumb to ash dieback.

He says: “The appeal needs the public’s help more than ever, so please tell us on social media about your favourite trees in your gardens or near your homes, and help us spread the word about our  work, which will continue long after 2020.” 

See   www.nationaltrust.org.uk/PeakDistrictAppeal    and post your favourite trees at:  @PeakDistrictNT or facebook.com/PeakDistrictNT