Would we do it again? Well, yes..but it has been very hard work. You can think about 4000 trees, you can dream about 4000 trees, you can talk about 4000 trees, but it doesn’t give you any notion of how many trees that actually is, or how much your back might hurt when planting them.
Since December 2010 we have planted 4000 trees, more than 3000 of them in the last five weeks. We could never have done this without our stalwart volunteers who have turned out in the freezing cold, the rain, the wind and even the all-too-occasional sunshine. Nevertheless, a lot of work has fallen on our shoulders, backs, legs and arms.
First of all, you can’t just put trees in willy-nilly. You have to plan their planting quite carefully. First of all, unless you are planning to grow conifers for a rapid profit, you can’t really plant them in rows. Instinctively, you know that the butterflies, bees, insects, flowers, mosses, liverworts, fungi, birds and mammals don’t mind that the trees are in rows, so long as they are there at all. But Betty’s Wood is quite prominent in the landscape – visible from the M42, from the Coventry Canal and from the top of Pooley Mound. This being the case, we want the landscape to look as natural as possible.
This has meant plotting out curvy lines that permit you to get down with a tractor or mower if needed to maintain the ground flora in the early years, but from most points of view, looks like a randomly-planted woodland. Connecting curves is less easy than connecting straight lines, so this is easy to say, but hard to do.
Then you have to ensure there is open space in which flowers and meadows may thrive, and that includes making sure that the meadows are not going to be permanently shaded out by trees in the future. As well as open space, it is helpful to provide variable densities of trees – planting them at different separations – so the wildlife can benefit from clumps and thickets, singleton “specimen” trees and everything in between.
Then you have to take account of the type of soil and ground. Betty’s Wood has some lovely clay loam soil, some awful stony ground, a very noticeable frost hollow, and an extremely wet section that at present resembles a paddy field rather than a woodland. Put trees in frozen ground and they won’t like it. Put the wrong kind of trees in ground that gets readily waterlogged and they won’t thrive.
The best laid plans, put down on paper, have to be modified as you get a feel for the ground you are standing on, and the conditions into which you are planting, and planning changes within the constraints of what you have told the Forestry Commission you will do is not easy.
Changing the landscape is also not just about trees: ponds are a really rapid way of increasing the diversity of habitats available. In the last two weeks, we have had Bill Sammons along with his digger to create five ponds, some of which are large, bordering on lakes, to provide habitat for a very wide range of creatures. Thanks to advice from Pond Conservation, we have planned these to maximise the habitats available with the emphasis on a wide draw-down zone, lots of variable depth areas, and pond complexes rather than single large ponds. Bill has done an excellent job with great skill. The area looks like the Somme at the moment, but we can picture this in our heads with rushes, reeds, sedges, grasses, irises and pond plants, with waders and waterfowl lurking in the cover provided, and with willow and alder growing around the edges. In a few years time we hope this will be a major new habitat addition for the area.
We have one weekend to go with tree planting and then we will have to stop for the season. Stop because the trees are almost bursting their buds, and stop because after six weeks of this, we are actually very tired. 325 final trees will go in to complete the rows, and profile curving paths. There will be a bit more to do next year – gapping up, filling gaps in the regeneration area, planting between the ponds after the ground has settled – but with this final push we will have a new woodland. We will miss the cameraderie of our valiant groups of volunteers, we will miss sploshing and slipping around in the mud, and we will miss tea and cake in the woods. We will not miss the aching muscles, the sore joints and the feeling of being permanently wet and cold.
Would we do it again? Yes..but we need a bit of a holiday first!