Our artists inspired us to change the way we look at trees and woods and how we relate to them in the environment through our 2018 Festival theme of Woods and Trees. Trees provide oxygen and store carbon, helping to slow down global warming. They provide habitats for wildlife – 500 species can live in a single old oak tree! They absorb pollutants and have therapeutic qualities too. Did you know that your heart rate and blood pressure will drop when you are surrounded by trees and your stress levels will go down? With 27% of the Wye Valley AONB covered in woodland, there are plenty of places to de-stress. We tested the therapeutic benefits of trees at our forest gathering at Symonds Yat which included an amazing night time music and light installation by artist Jony Easterby.
Why Woods & Trees?
The Wye Valley Woodlands are internationally important for their conservation value. They define the lower Wye Valley and follow the River almost continuously for 30 miles. You could walk between Ross-on-Wye and Chepstow hardly leaving woodland, save for a couple of river crossings and a short, furtive traverse along tree-lined hedges. Meanwhile there are over 2,400 veteran trees recorded in the AONB. Through 2018 the impact of Chalara / Ash Dieback and other tree diseases may also be more noticeable. Therefore the Wye Valley River Festival is an opportunity to celebrate the significance of woods and trees in the nature, culture, landscape and life of the Wye Valley.
Most of the Wye Valley woodlands are ancient woods, with an unbroken history of tree cover since at least medieval times, and in many cases may well have existed for several thousand years. This does not mean these woods were untouched. They survive partly because timber and small wood was harvested throughout their history. But they are also some of the richest habitats for wildlife in the UK, providing homes for Greater and Lesser Horseshoe Bats, woodland birds and dormice. Healthy ancient woodland includes areas of fallen or standing dead wood which provides ideal habitats for fungi and insects.
What is the Wye Valley Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB)?
Between Hereford and Chepstow, a 58 mile stretch of the River Wye meanders through fertile farmland, spectacular limestone gorge scenery and dense ravine woodlands. Superb wildlife and ancient woodlands, intriguing archaeology and impressive geology led the government to designate this 128 square mile section of the Wye Valley as an ‘Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty’ in 1971, giving this much-loved landscape the same level of protection as our National Parks.
The Wye Valley AONB is 27% woodland (8850ha) of which about 3/4 is ancient woodland – nearly 20% of the whole AONB. The Wye Valley AONB is more wooded than most of the UK’s AONBs and National Parks. The whole UK is just 13% woodland (10% in England, 15% in Wales). The AONB Management Plan 2015-2020 identifies ‘Woodlands’, ‘Ancient Trees’ and ‘Orchards’ as three of the Special Qualities of the AONB.
The Wye Valley River Festival is led by the Wye Valley AONB Partnership.
Britain’s Favourite River
The Wye is Britain’s favourite river, flowing through a treasured landscape whose scenic beauty draws people to it to relax and recharge, be challenged and inspired.
The now tranquil Wye Valley was one of the first places to industrialise in the 16th and 17th centuries, fuelled by water power from the fast flowing tributaries rushing into the Wye and charcoal made from the hillside woods. The Wye was a watery highway allowing goods to be traded up and down the river and to ports along the Severn and further afield.
The idea of the ‘Picturesque’ was developed by artists and thinkers in the late 18th century who popularised the Wye Tour, a two day boat trip from Ross to Chepstow. Passing through the most breath-taking scenery, stopping at famed viewpoints and visiting romantic ruins like Tintern Abbey, the Wye Tour was the height of fashion in the 18th and early 19th centuries.