AN army of conservationists are preparing to plant more than half-a-million trees in Ryedale before the onset of spring.

The Forestry Commission said the saplings must all be planted by hand and must be done before the weather begins to turn warmer and the young roots of the trees become active.

More than 200 hectares of land will be replanted, mainly in Dalby, Cropton and Langdale near Pickering, Wass Moor and Kilburn near Helmsley, but will also see planting in small woods like Sand Hutton, near York.

Jon Bates, of the Forestry Commission, said: “Unlike many aspects of forestry, tree planting has not been mechanised, so it’s all done by hand.

“A skilled operator can plant over 1,000 trees per day and, given the size of the job and limited time, that’s just as well.

“The annual planting programme is vital to ensure that our woods continue to produce a sustainable supply of timber well into the future.”

The commission said this year’s planting effort was bigger than normal because additional sites were being replanted which were badly affected by the major storm which hit North Yorkshire in 2005.

It is estimated more than a million trees were toppled or damaged by severe gales on the Forestry Commission estate in the region.

Mr Bates said: “Some of the felled areas are being left to regenerate naturally rather than replanted as part of long-term work to enhance habitats and landscapes.

“We carefully monitor these sites, but we expect to see birch and rowan pushing through, eventually followed by oak.

“Trees planted for commercial reasons will be ripe for felling by the mid-point of the century.”

He said: “It just emphasises that forestry is a long-term business.

“We work on a time-scale of many decades, which makes the work of the tree planters doubly important.”