Establishing A New Woodland - Part 2: Preparation

2 minute read

This is Part 2 of a short series. Part 1 describes the planning process.

At the end of October 2020 we got final approval of our application from the Woodland Trust, paid our share of the cost and agreed a date for delivery. Agreeing a date was simple but not easy: we needed to balance timescales the Trust-approved supplier could deliver to, dates we could take a bit of time off to do the planting, and a time when the weather in our part of the world was likely to be amenable to planting. The latter is pretty much a roll of the dice: in the three years we’ve lived here we’ve seen winter temperatures in double figures Celcius, both +ve and -ve, >1m snow, >50cm rainfall in a day and everything in between.

Added to all of this was the shifting sands of Covid-19 restrictions. We’d had a lot of friends and relatives say that they’d like to come and help with the planting and potentially had 20+ people to call on. We could be done in a day! So we picked the 15th January and hoped for the best.

What rapidly became obvious was that the hoped-for festival of planting wasn’t going to happen and this was going to be pretty much a solo effort. So over the Christmas period — aided by our son who was visiting for the holidays — we started to prepare the ground. The first job being to dig ~1000 holes.

The first holes are dug
The first holes are dug. The trees are on the Northern edge of the field and the telegraph wire that crosses the land is visible.

We inherited an old tree spade from the previous owner and had romantic notions of digging the whole thing with that but about 50 holes in we realised it might be great for planting an individual tree in an already heavily wooded area but for what we were doing it was useless.

A traditional tree spade
A traditional tree spade.

So we reverted to modern spades and fell on the notion of digging out pyramidal ‘plugs’ of earth rather than just digging holes. This was much faster and with two of us working 5–6 hours per day we got ~900 holes done in three days. The idea was to leave 100 holes to be dug once we had got most of the trees in and could better see the emerging shape of the woodland in the real world.

A Plug of Earth
A plug of earth shortly after one of the many freezes and thaws that came between preparation and planting.

We were working to the plan but, of course, no plan survives contact with a field. We realised that the established trees needed a lot more space around them than we’d planned for, that the overhead telegraph and power lines could only have the very lowest growing shrubs underneath them, and that there was a 30 metre square area of the field that was pretty water-logged. The plan was modified to take all of this into account

Revised Planting Plan

By New Year’s Eve we’d pretty much done all we could and the only thing left was to wait for the tree delivery whilst hoping the now-anticipated ‘Beast from the East 2.0’ didn’t materialise! (The original BftE being a weather event in 2018 that led to the farm being completely cut off for 5 days the week before we moved in).

The third part of this article deals with actual planting rather than digging holes and playing around with blobs on a computer screen. Establishing a New Woodland. Part 3: Planting.