A family plants trees at Quarry Bank. Credit NT Images and David Watson

In November 2020 the National Trust planted the first 3,600 trees in the Countryfile Wood – part of BBC One’s Plant Britain project – at Quarry Bank including native broadleaves; oak, birch, hornbeam and sweet chestnut to create a classic English lowland woodland.

The aim is to plant 6,000 trees in the Countryfile Wood in total over the next two years, with support from Manchester City of Trees and People’s Postcode Lottery.

Elsewhere on the estate another 34,000 trees will be planted in over the next three years across a variety of farmland, thanks to a generous legacy left to the Trust by a private donor.

This ambitious project aims to establish a mosaic of different habitats, planting new trees to connect existing woodlands and create wildlife corridors.

Lead ranger Colin Gorner says: “We’re planting a huge variety of tree species at Quarry Bank, from small understory species to tall high house trees. This wide range of trees will create habitats for a really diverse mix of wildlife, creating homes for insects that in turn become food sources for other species.

“Since the start of the project we’ve already seen an impact on the raptor population, with barn owls, kestrels and red kites all being spotted much more regularly than before.”

As part of this wider ambition the aim is to plant several new clusters of black poplars – an important native tree that is increasingly scarce in the UK, with only 7,000 specimens left.

Rangers at Quarry Bank are working closely with Chester Zoo, whose plant specialists have propagated these new black poplars as part of a project to preserve this rare species.

Simon Toomer, plant specialist says: “Most people can easily name the common and widespread species like oak, ash and beech but alongside these are more elusive or difficult to identify species with restricted distributions. One of the rarest of our trees is the black poplar (Populus nigra ssp. betulifolia), an inhabitant of floodplains and wet ditches and once a common sight in the countryside. John Constable’s familiar painting The Hay Wain of 1821 shows black poplar trees growing alongside a meandering river. 

“Despite its close relationship to its European cousins like the ornamentally-shaped Lombardy poplar (Populus nigra ‘Italica’), the black poplar has a more wild and unkempt profile more reminiscent of a bad hair day than a classical column. Its loss from our landscapes would also impoverish our landscape and arboricultural history. It would also represent a further depletion of our tree biodiversity and the creatures that rely on it for their survival.

“Fortunately, new poplar trees can be propagated from long cuttings known as truncheons. This technique utilises the ability of most members of the willow family to sucker from roots or shoot from cut limbs to produce cloned offspring of the parents. This is a common strategy of trees growing in waterlogged areas where reproduction through seed may be less viable.

“Another distinctive family feature relates to sex: botanists describe poplars as dioecious meaning that individual trees (and their offspring) produce either male or female flowers – but not both. There are thought to be only about 700 females in the UK (10 per cent of the total Black Poplar population), perhaps a consequence of the tradition of propagating replacements from male trees.”

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Quarry Bank (NT)
Water Mill
The opposing Mill at Quarry Bank (NT)

Quarry Bank is one of Britain's greatest industrial heritage sites, showing how a complete industrial community lived. Here you can discover the story of mill workers, mill owners and how the Industrial Revolution changed our world forever.

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