New year, new plants

Jan­uary is an ex­cel­lent time for plant­ing trees — ide­ally on your hold­ing, but why not also con­sider guer­rilla forests, asks Tim Tyne?

Country Smallholding - - Feature Legal -

Bare rooted fruit trees can be planted in Jan­uary, so if you are plan­ning to ex­tend your or­chard, now is the time to do it. How­ever, you will need to de­lay plant­ing if the ground is frozen or par­tic­u­larly wet. Pro­vided that you leave the pack­ag­ing around the roots of your new tress and store them in a cool, dry, frost-free place, they will be OK for a week or two, by which time hope­fully the ground con­di­tions will have im­proved. A cou­ple of hours be­fore plant­ing, stand the roots in a bucket of wa­ter to soak.

How­ever, it is not just fruit trees that we should be plant­ing. Other species, whether for fuel, tim­ber, wildlife habi­tat, shel­ter, or sim­ply to screen the un­sightly view of a nearby hous­ing de­vel­op­ment, all have their place on the small­hold­ing and new plant­ings should be en­cour­aged. Odd cor­ners of fields can be fenced off to make small wood­lands, and bound­aries can be dou­ble fenced to al­low the plant­ing of hedgerow species. If the var­i­ous ar­eas are con­nected, then so much the bet­ter, as this TIP Newly-planted trees might need to be in­di­vid­u­ally pro­tected us­ing plas­tic guards, or al­ter­na­tively the whole area may be tem­po­rar­ily fenced to keep browsers out un­til the wood­land is es­tab­lished. To keep deer out of your new plan­ta­tion, fenc­ing will need to be be­tween 1-2m high, depend­ing on the species present in the area ( see ta­ble, page

47), and a fairly fine mesh will be re­quired to ex­clude smaller an­i­mals, such as rab­bits. Sim­i­larly, in­di­vid­ual tree guards will need to be of a height pro­por­tional to the size of the an­i­mals that you are pro­tect­ing against.

When plas­tic tree guards have served their purpose they should be care­fully col­lected up and stored for fu­ture use, or passed on to some­one else to make use of, not left lit­ter­ing the coun­try­side.

pro­vides wildlife cor­ri­dors. Also, if you are plant­ing up a small plot in the cor­ner of a field that is ad­ja­cent to some­one else’s land, how about ask­ing them if they would con­sider do­ing the same on their side of the fence? This way, nei­ther of you lose much pro­duc­tive ground, but the size of the new wood­land is dou­bled. TIP When plant­ing new trees on a small­hold­ing, con­sider us­ing species that lend them­selves to cop­pic­ing. These are pri­mar­ily fast- grow­ing trees that will re­grow with a mul­ti­tude of new stems when sawn off fairly close to the ground. Suit­able species would in­clude hazel, chest­nut, wil­low and sycamore. Cop­pic­ing on a five-year ro­ta­tion (ie, cut­ting down a fifth of the trees each year) should en­sure a good sup­ply of straight poles, fire­wood and pea sticks.

Guer­rilla forests?

This has ab­so­lutely noth­ing to do with Diane Fossey. I was think­ing of some­thing along sim­i­lar lines to guer­rilla gar­den­ing, which was very much in vogue a few years ago. Guer­rilla gar­den­ing in­volved in­di­vid­u­als, fam­i­lies or groups of peo­ple cre­at­ing il­le­gal gardens in oth­er­wise un­der­utilised ar­eas of both pub­lic space and pri­vate land, such as the cen­tres of round­abouts and wide road­side verges, derelict build­ing sites and aban­doned plots. A blind eye was of­ten turned by the au­thor­i­ties as it helped to tidy up and re­ju­ve­nate run down ar­eas, and the over­all ef­fect was pos­i­tive.

So, how about ap­ply­ing a sim­i­lar prin­ci­ple to tree plant­ing? Some species, such as wil­low, hawthorn and holly, can be prop­a­gated very suc­cess­fully from hard­wood cut­tings. Ba­si­cally, you poke a twig in the ground the right way up and it grows. It would be a sim­ple enough mat­ter, when out for a walk, to take a small bun­dle of suit­able sticks and push them in the ground in ap­pro­pri­ate places — along­side foot­paths or in odd cor­ners here and there. If you did this on a reg­u­lar ba­sis it would amount to quite a few new trees, al­though, of course, only a pro­por­tion of them would sur­vive.

TIP When car­ry­ing out hedgerow main­te­nance, it is al­ways tempt­ing to leave the oc­ca­sional promis­ing look­ing sapling to de­velop into a ma­ture tree within the line of the hedge. How­ever, do be aware that even­tu­ally the re­sult­ing tree will shade out the sec­tion of hedge di­rectly be­neath the spread of its branches, caus­ing it to be­come weak, gappy and not so stock-proof. TIP Never un­der­es­ti­mate the amount of work in­volved in run­ning even a mod­est sized small­hold­ing. It is of­ten the case that peo­ple take up small­hold­ing a lit­tle late in life, af­ter fol­low­ing a dif­fer­ent ca­reer path, and, buoyed up with the ex­cite­ment of change and a new life in the open air, they find them­selves re­ju­ve­nated by re­serves of en­ergy they never knew they had. Be warned, how­ever, that the en­ergy will run out and you will be left with a lot of un­fin­ished work on your hands and a crip­pling daily rou­tine. Pace your­self from the out­set and don’t bite off more than you can com­fort­ably chew.

High­way habi­tats

When­ever there is a ma­jor new road be­ing built, it seems to be part of the de­sign brief that it should be lined on both sides with a wide band of newly-planted wood­land, pre­sum­ably to mit­i­gate the mas­sive amount of habi­tat dam­age caused by the con­struc­tion process.

But, beyond the ‘feel good’ fac­tor it un­doubt­edly gives to planners and politi­cians, is it re­ally a sen­si­ble use of pub­lic money? I don’t think so. By cre­at­ing at­trac­tive wildlife cor­ri­dors im­me­di­ately ad­ja­cent to our own high­ways, birds and an­i­mals are drawn into close con­tact with fast mov­ing ve­hi­cles, the con­se­quences of which are in­vari­ably fa­tal. In the case of col­li­sions with larger an­i­mals, such as deer, there are a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of hu­man ca­su­al­ties too.

Al­though I ac­cept that new habi­tat must be cre­ated to re­place what is lost, it would be bet­ter to site ar­eas of tree plant­ing at some dis­tance from busy roads in or­der to draw wildlife away from the dan­ger zone.

New Year’s res­o­lu­tion

I would like all small­hold­ers to re­solve to pro­duce more food from their land in fu­ture. While small-scale food pro­duc­tion won’t solve all of the world’s prob­lems, it might help to al­le­vi­ate a few of them. And be­sides, most UK small­hold­ings aren’t nearly so pro­duc­tive as they could be, which I think is a wasted re­source.

Wood­land ar­eas en­hance the bio­di­ver­sity and amenity value of Tim’s small­hold­ing, in ad­di­tion to pro­vid­ing him with fuel

The first har­vest from Tim’s wil­low plan­ta­tion

Cop­pic­ing

A wil­low coppice a few years af­ter cut­ting

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