YOU can’t beat the beauty of ash woodland in spring. These magnificent trees are one of the last to get their leaves and the sun shining through allows a flurry of flowers to burst into life, offering carpets of bluebells, anemones and red campion in turn.

So I was heartened to hear about the government’s plan earlier this year to contribute £5.7 million towards a “Northern Forest”. The proposed forest, managed by the Woodland Trust, will involve planting 50 million trees between Liverpool and Hull, with the M62 at its spine.

The project aims to turn northern cities green. I think it’s a fantastic idea as it will provide a lifeline to wildlife.

As a wildlife artist I have spent many a happy evening watching badgers emerging from their setts on the Yorkshire Wolds, red squirrels scampering through plantations of larch in the Yorkshire Dales and pine martens emerging from stands of ancient oak in Scotland.

But my favourite woodland has got to be my own “wood” which I planted in 2006 with larch, scots pine, evergreen oak, holly, mountain ash, blackthorn, hawthorn, spindle, crab apple, beech and ash trees.

My gallery in Thixendale is exposed to strong winds and I hoped the 1,200 trees that I ordered would create a wildlife haven, as well as a wind break.

It took two weeks in January to dibble in the tiny saplings and encase them in their protective tree guards. I nicknamed it “Fotherdale Forest”, although at just one acre it can hardly be described as that. Fourteen years later it is, however, a wildlife haven.

Stoats, weasels and hedgehogs live here and I’ve seen roe deer, foxes and badgers passing through.

Bullfinches and goldfinches are nesting, as well as whitethroats, chiff chaff and black cap. I’ve even got roosting tawny and barn owls.

With such an abundance of birdlife, however, the predators follow. Just last month, I followed the continuous sound of a blackbird’s chinking into the wood. I noticed some red-legged partridge feathers on the ground.

As I bent down to pick a few up, I heard an explosion of wings as a female sparrowhawk flew from under a dense blackthorn. Here, I found a partially eaten partridge.

Hawks nearly always return to a kill so I tied the partridge down onto a blackthorn sucker so she couldn’t move it away. I decided to continually replace the kill with partridges from a supply of road kill I keep in my chest freezer. This way I would keep the hawk feeding in the wood for days.

The following day, after she had fed heartily on the carcass, I set up a surveillance camera and two GoPros covered in camouflage netting. It wasn’t easy work as I had to lay 100 metres of cable through dense undergrowth.

I got amazing footage of the hawk’s short yet frequent visits over the course of a week, and as an added bonus got an insight into the secret world of my “Fotherdale Forest”.

Once, a wood mouse pinched some partridge meat while the hawk was feeding. The sparrow hawk looked at it with utter disbelief as if to say: “Don’t you know I am an apex predator?”

When the plucky mouse ignored it the hawk lashed out with its wing as if to deliver a lethal karate chop and the mouse scampered away in a cloud of partridge feathers.

By day, birds made use of the kill, collecting strewn feathers to line their nests. By night invertebrates including beetles, slugs and flies, fed on it. These attracted a toad which became a regular visitor. Even a passing hedgehog couldn’t resist a snack.

I wanted to get some close up photographs of the sparrow hawk, so waited until night fall to prepare my vantage point, clearing low branches and vegetation, hanging camouflage netting, sweeping twigs from the path and carpeting the last four metres for a silent approach. That afternoon the sparrowhawk was back. I crept into position on my belly so I would be at eye level with my subject. I looked down the lens. A piercing yellow eye glared back at me. I nervously pressed the shutter, worried the sound would scare her away. But she didn’t even blink. I was only nine metres away from this great grey phantom of Fotherdale Forest.

See paintings inspired by “Fotherdale Forest”at Robert’s gallery in Thixendale where an exhibition focusing on woodland wildlife runs until Sunday. Alongside the paintings there are art prints, photographs, video and live cameras showing baby owls inside their nests on show.