Establishing a New Woodland. Part 4: Reflections

This is not an article about the technology, product or business topics I usually write about. It is the story of planting a new 0.75 Hectare (1.8 Acres) woodland. These are undoubtedly some lessons for CTOs, Product Managers and Startup owners in here somewhere but I’m not going to attempt to find them; I’ll leave that up to you if you’re so motivated!

This is Part 4 of a short series. Part 1 describes the planning process, Part 2 the site preparation, and Part 3 the planting.

The planting of this woodland was our first and the idea was to start with a relatively small site in order to learn. In the next few years we hope to plant several hectares of trees but what will we do differently next time?

We walked the site with the Woodland Trust advisor in the summer when the field was dry but planted mid-winter after a period of heavy snow and rain. This revealed a number of low-lying areas of the field that got pretty water-logged and we should have ordered a higher number of water-loving trees: Willow, Alder and Downy Birch. For the next one we’ll do a site survey in January and February the year before planting.

I also wish we’d thought a bit harder about the trees proposed by the advisor; we just accepted their suggestion. I really liked their ideas about the species but we know from the existing woodland that pines do very well here and if we’d ordered 100 of the Scots Pine rather than the 50 suggested we’d have been able to establish a three-deep line of them across the south eastern border for maximum protection from the wind.

I found producing the planting plan in advance really helped, both in terms of where to dig the holes and also ensuring a good balance between keeping the trees in family groups and promoting some ‘flow’ between the different species. Only time will tell how successful this actually is but I can already visualise how different areas of the woodland will look. The plan needed adjusting as we went but, in the end, what we planted wasn’t too far away from what I’d initially planned.

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Digging the holes in advance of the tree delivery worked extremely well and I’m glad we did that rather than dug as we planted. I think this would have extended the overall planting time significantly and even the 100 holes we dug as we planted were a lot more physically demanding than just digging lots of plugs and then planting in a separate phase.

The most back-breaking work was putting in the tree stakes. The taller stakes come in sets of 10 which are fairly light and easy to carry individually but when you’re putting 1000 in, and the distance from the barn where we were storing them to the furthest corner of the field is about 400m of uneven ground, it’s pretty exhausting just getting them into place. Not for the first time I wish I’d bought the quad bike I keep not quite getting round to handing over the cash for and it would have been much easier if I’d just loaded up the car and driven them into the field!

In addition to this I was using a 10lb sledgehammer to knock them in which was very tiring after the first 200 or so and a quick trip to the local country store to buy a 4lb lump hammer made life a lot easier.

Once we figured out the process of planting each species of tree at a time the planting went pretty smoothly although the time required was a fair bit more than I’d anticipated and the weather disruption was significant. I’d hoped we could plant in the four days after delivery but in the end it required about six days of planting and that took three weeks. Next time I’m going to assume ~150 holes per person digging per day and ~200 trees per person planting per day

I have to say I absolutely loved the planting process. You really start to get to know a tree species when you’ve handled 50–200 of them. And not for the first time I felt the significant privilege of having all this space and so much freedom in what we do with it.

The next significant woodland we have planned is approx 2–3 Hectares and it will probably be a couple of years before we’re ready to plant that. However kitwallace (@kitwallace on twitter) has introduced me to the idea of Tiny Forests and I’m quite tempted to plant a couple of these this year or next. In addition to the existing woodland we have a couple of small copses near to the house and placing some higher density copses in the main field appeals.

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Technologist; CTO; Product Owner; Music Lover; Film Fanatic; Dendrophile.

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