Restoring Nature's Beauty: the Howardian Hills Woodland Project and Beyond
There’s a certain enchantment in spending time within the depths of an ancient British Woodland. The majestic trees offer not only their striking presence but also respite from scorching days and a kind of of refuge from the rain. In the spring and summer months, a blissful array of colours from the woodland flora not only delights the eye but also lifts our spirits.
Regrettably, England’s ancient woodlands are a rarity, and without intervention in their management, we risk losing the exquisite flora that graces the forest floor. Left unattended, woodlands will inevitably become densely shaded, allowing only a few species to survive. These woodlands coevolved with animals over thousands of years, with these creatures playing a vital role in spreading seeds, disturbing the soil, and consuming branches and small trees. This activity allows dappled sunlight to reach the forest floor, creating the ideal conditions for primroses, wood anemones , orchids, and the countless other flowers, that have adapted to flourish there.
In 2016, Autism Plus took the initiative to plant hedges and trees, creating a horticultural and woodland area. Unfortunately, due to the challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, the project faced difficult times. However, today, our horticultural team embarks on an exciting journey to further develop the site, generously supported by the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). In collaboration with botanists, ecologists, and woodland experts, Autism Plus will manage the woodland area to replicate the characteristics of an ancient woodland. This pursuit will introduce a variety of native woodland flowers, celebrating the beauty and diversity of the unique flora found in the Howardian Hills. We have a specially designed propagation polytunnel area dedicated to growing woodland flowers, both for our own space and to donate to other local wooded areas, allowing them to flourish as well. Young students from ROOSE (Ryedale Out of School Education), a program designed to assist students who, for various reasons, cannot access mainstream school settings, have been actively involved in this project. Their hands-on contributions have been helping transform the space and they will play an important role planting an orchard, which will produce delicious apple juice using some of Yorkshire's finest apple varieties.
The ultimate objective for this area is to create a green haven for people and nature to thrive. The space will be a dedicated venue for forest schools, bushcraft activities, and an outdoor classroom, providing a much-needed escape from digital screens and a chance to reconnect with the natural world. It will be a place where individuals of all ages can deeply engage with and appreciate the marvels of our natural environment.
In the acre horticultural area, we have made a conscious choice to embrace regenerative growing methods, an approach that allows us to cultivate delicious vegetables in a sustainable and environmentally friendly manner. Here, we abstain from using pesticides, opting instead to interplant strips of vibrant wildflowers amid the vegetables. This integration creates a welcoming habitat for beneficial insects like lacewings and beetles, which, in turn, help control common garden pests such as aphids and slug larvae. Emphasis is placed on soil health, recognising that robust soil promotes healthy plants with enhanced disease resistance. To achieve this, we employ green manures—plants that work to rejuvenate and enrich the soil. Already, the positive effects are evident in the increased insect population, the lively presence of dragonflies, birds, and the absence of infestations on our produce. Our next endeavour is to enhance the pond area, expanding critical habitat.