The National Lottery celebrated its 25th birthday this week. Its multi-million pound jackpots change lives. But did you know the National Lottery invests in life-changing projects around the UK too?

The Woodland Trust is one of many organisations to win the lottery, with over £33 million in funding helping us with more than 120 projects since 1994. We take a look at what one of our biggest grants – from the Heritage Fund – has meant for our largest site in England: Smithills Estate near Bolton.

Securing the site

Steeped in history and shadowed by the famous Winter Hill TV mast, Smithills is an important and fascinating site. We bought two-thirds of this special place in 2015 before receiving one of our biggest Heritage Fund grants yet – a whopping £1.9m in 2017. Combined with generous public donations and other funding, much of this grant was put towards buying the final third of the site. This brought all 1,700 acres of woodland and open countryside into our care.

The rest of the grant was earmarked for Smithills’ restoration and activities to engage people with its heritage. We’ve been restoring and revitalising the site ever since.

Creating havens for wildlife

Lottery funding is helping to restore a mosaic of special wildlife habitats at Smithills. Woodland, heathland, grassland and moorland provide homes for over 1,000 species, including palmate newt, green hairstreak butterfly and the rare short-eared owl.

The funding also provides training for our team of dedicated wildlife monitoring volunteers. They identify and record the plants and animals they find – an important task which helps to inform our conservation plans.

Devastating wildfires ravaged a third of the land in 2018, making our work at Smithills even more challenging. But wildlife is returning. As more trees go in the ground this winter and restoration of the moor continues, Smithills’ nature will thrive again. 

Tackling climate change

Following the fires during last year’s heatwave, autumn 2019 brought a different climate challenge. Heavy rain overwhelmed some parts of the UK. At Smithills, Lottery funding has helped us to build wooden leaky dams on the estate. The dams will reduce flooding by slowing the run-off of water from the moorland to the lower areas of the site. They’ll also help to retain water on the moorland. This will allow us to introduce more species of sphagnum moss to boost the recovery of this precious habitat.

Events for everyone

Through Heritage Fund support and with help from our partners, we’ve been able to offer lots of free events. Thousands of people have enjoyed the site over the last few years by joining us at:

  • birdsong, tree and bat ID walks
  • fungi foraging sessions
  • a lantern parade
  • photography walks
  • magical springtime adventures
  • mindfulness walks
  • autism-friendly walks
  • monthly dementia-friendly walks
  • wassailing adventures
  • den building
  • Bioblitz days.

We’ve plenty more exciting events and activities in the pipeline – keep checking our events page.

Looking to the future

The Woodland Trust and Heritage Fund are committed to looking after unique places like Smithills. Since the lottery began in 1994, its funding has helped us achieve so much, including:

  • transforming Hackfall Woods in North Yorkshire
  • creating new woodlands with 250 communities across the UK for the Millennium Woods on Your Doorstep programme
  • recruiting volunteers for the Ancient Tree Hunt project.

Smithills may take 10-15 years to fully recover from the fires, but the future is looking bright. Our plans to revitalise the landscape include: 

  • managing the different habitats to provide a better home for plants and animals
  • planting 130,000 new trees
  • encouraging new social enterprises on-site
  • holding more events and activities
  • enhancing public access.

You can help people and wildlife to enjoy this special site by supporting our vital work. Donate now to make a difference to the future of this northern gem.

Help us restore and revive Smithills Estate

Our largest English site is now being restored to its full glory thanks to your donations. But there's still work to be done.

Donate to the Smithills fund

We’re so grateful for everything we’ve received from the Heritage Fund and players of the National Lottery. We look forward to another 25 years of working together to plant, protect and care for woods and trees across the UK.

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