Escrick Park, near Selby, is one of the oldest – and loveliest – estates in Yorkshire. Run by the Forbes Adam family since the 18th century, it is a tremendous example of the importance of continuity in the countryside. Whilst reinventing itself for the 21st century, with the creation of a delightful and successful rural business park, the estate is also mindful of its debt to the past and its duty to the future.
A classic example of this is the creation of Three Hagges Jubilee Wood, an innovative community woodland project, which has recently received a ‘game-changing’ £30,000 grant from the London-based Esmée Fairbairn Foundation. This grant is enabling the 25-acre wood to develop into a vibrant eco-system combining woodland and meadow.
Rosalind Forbes Adam, who masterminded the community wood with her son Beilby, explains, ‘We are tremendously indebted to the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation for their generous grant. This is a game changer for us, enabling Hagge Woods Trust to develop a beautiful and truly bio-diverse habitat and to fund a project manager and co-ordinator.
‘In essence, we are transforming arable land into native woodland for the benefit of the public. Our goal is to raise the bar for beauty and ecological diversity in Yorkshire’s woodlands and to allow the community to enjoy surroundings which will feature wildflowers, fine grasses and meandering pathways.’
As our bleak winter turns joyously into spring, Three Hagges Jubilee Wood is bursting into life, with its bluebell meadow a riot of colour. Meanwhile Rosalind’s thoughts are turning to this year’s projects.
‘Our primary botanical aim is to create a haven for many species of wildflower that have become endangered during the last century,’ she says. ‘Between 60 and 65 percent of wood and grassland flowers have declined in the past 60 years. We have already planted over 10,000 native trees and shrubs and plan to plant many more this year.
‘But we have an educational aim, too. In association with the OPAL (Open Air Laboratories) Project and York University’s Dr Sarah West, the Trust is developing teaching packs for primary schools. These are designed to link in with the National Curriculum, and promote conservation awareness by means of outdoor activities, and will be tailored specifically to make best use of the wood meadows at the Three Hagges Jubilee Wood site.
‘Wearing my more commercial hat, we are trying to attract corporate and other sponsors by launching a Benefactors’ Scheme, to encourage businesses and individuals to support us and to offer Benefactors opportunities to become actively involved in the conservation of our native trees and flowers.
‘More specifically, we are actively seeking funds to build our Bodger’s Den, a traditionally constructed building made from locally sourced materials. Visitors from schools, community groups and other organisations can come to learn amid our meadows and young woodland, about the traditional countryside craft of bodging – the heritage skills of working with green wood for carving, pole lathing, spoon carving and such like.’
Rosaland adds, ‘This can help hundreds of youngsters become more aware of their different career options having experienced rural skills in action and talked to practising professionals. This is very rare in the traditional craft setting and means the communities in and around York will have a unique experience and be able to learn a rare art in our landscape today.’
Meanwhile the sponsorship by Bettys of Harrogate Tree group in the setting up of a small nursery has enabled the introduction a further 50 species to the already diverse meadows at Three Hagges Jubilee Wood. Some 3,000 new plants will be introduced this year. There will be planting parties for volunteers and friends and an extension of the Guided Wildflower Walks for Friends programme.
The Three Hagges Jubilee Wood was created in honour of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebration and was set up as a not-for-profit enterprise with assistance from the Forestry Commission and the Woodland Trust. It is managed by Hagge Woods Trust which is now a registered charity.
The involvement and support of entrepreneur and creator of the Heart of England Forest, the late Felix Dennis, and of woodland ecologist George Peterken have inspired the naming of special areas of the wood-meadow: the Felix Copse and the Peterken Meadow.
This magnificent enterprise, which will brighten and enrich the lives not just of our generation but of many generations to come, is another glorious chapter in the illustrious history of Escrick Park Estate. The estate’s 18th century forebears would surely approve.