Thursday, 13 February 2014

Break free from the commercial foresters spell!

Newly planted small wood - boring with a capital "B"
I start this piece by admitting that I'm not a forester. However, I do love the wide range of different woods that this country has to offer, including those that have been planted in straight lines in the hope that they will produce fine timber one day and return a tidy profit.

But I am becoming more and more frustrated at the way we plant ALL new woodlands as though they are commercial forests. I expect it is just that I am becoming more cantankerous in my old age, but it has really begun to bug me!

Anyway, here goes – this is my problem.

If you have a reasonably large area that you decide to plant up with hardwoods and perhaps some conifers too, as a long term commercial venture, then talk to a forester and plant it and maintain it exactly as they suggest. 

On the other hand if you have an acre or two that you wish to plant, are you seriously thinking that this will give a profitable outcome in a hundred years or so? I think not. So why do we all appear plant new woods in an identical fashion – close spacing and straight lines, just as one would plant large scale forestry blocks? It is almost as though there is a commercial foresters “spell” cast upon those who plan to plant trees – “thou shalt do it as we say or you will be doomed”!!

How about planting a small area with mainly shrubs and one or two trees? You might include shrubby species such as Hawthorn, Buckthorn, Guelder Rose, Wild Privet, Holly, Hazel, Pussy Willow and Dogwood. Then some smaller trees such as Crab apple or Field maple and then one or two big trees such as Oak or Small leaved Lime. You should also leave at least 10% unplanted in the form of rides and open areas.

Move on ten years and you will have an amazingly diverse, beautiful area that is literally brimming with wildlife. Spring time will see the new wood covered in an array of different blossoms and the hum from assorted bees and insects will be deafening!  This will attract newly arrived migrant birds which will join our resident species to feed up on the insects and possibly stay on to nest in the shrubby cover.

Autumn will see the branches weighed down with various berries and fruits offering a wonderful food supply during the winter months. Meanwhile the tree species will be now begin to grow above the shrubs and start to spread their branches out to form the classic shape of a tree given space – one day to become a majestic Oak or Lime. They will start to cast a shade across the shrubs below, but because you have only planted one or two trees and left open spaces, plenty of sunlight will still pour into the wood.

Managing the area is straight forward – “little and often”. Simply coppice a few shrubs each year so that you create diversity within your little wood, which will soon make it look as though it has always been there! Management such as this will bring in more wildlife such as butterflies which will nectar on the wild privet and sunbathe in the newly formed glades that you have created.

Many small woods are planted because landowners want to create a habitat for Pheasants. If that is the driving force behind your small woodland planting, then I will wager you a bet that after 10 years “my shrubby little wood” will knock spots off of your “trees in a line” planting when it comes to holding Pheasants!!

So come on all you tree planters – break free of the foresters spell – and create a wonderfully different wood to these boring, regimented plantations that cover our countryside at present. 

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