Owning a wood can produce a whole mixture of emotions in the course of a few hours, let alone a few days, and this was the case with our lovely wood over the Easter holidays.
The woods are looking beautiful, the bluebells are out in force, and the trees are all in full leaf, with the exception of the tardy ash trees, still lagging behind the oaks. Unfortunately the phrase “oak before ash, we’re in for a splash” seems to be more than true for us. Indeed, not even a splash of rain has fallen since the start of March. This is wonderful news if you are trying to promote the woods for outdoor activities and enjoyment, but not such wonderful news for newly-planted trees.
Betty’s Wood has 4500 new trees, planted in February 2011. The trees didn’t have the best start. Initially, planting was delayed due to prolonged frozen weather which meant the ground was like concrete. Then it turned into a quagmire, making the planting difficult and completion of our wet woodland area an impossibility. But at the end of February, the rain stopped, things warmed up a bit and the trees started to come into leaf.
And then the rain stopped. Completely. By Easter, although about 1/3 of the area is still OK, presumably due to permeable subsoil and groundwater, the remaining 2/3 was drying up. The wet species, in particular the alder, were now in dried mud that was like concrete, and struggling. Many of the oaks (we planted 800) looked distinctly dead, and we stood to lose as many as 2500 trees, or more.
But how to water 9 acres and 4500 trees? We managed to cobble together an arrangement with a tank, a bowser, an ancient Honda pump, and extracting some water from our new ponds, thankfully fed by groundwater so resilient to extraction, at least for now. We were very grateful that we had planted the trees in curvy rows that were wide enough to get a Land Rover down, as we could tow the bowser into position, and pump out the water through a hose, directing the hose to the roots, and thus watering the trees without waste. Still, watering 200 trees took nearly 2 hours, and so far we have only managed to water about 1100 of the worst-affected trees. They need doing again, but we still have some that haven’t been watered at all. No rain is forecast until the end of May at least (apart from the odd shower which isn’t enough – we need real wet rain for days to make a difference).
The hedge, and upper part of the new wood looks in better shape: in the lower part of the woods I guess we’ve lost about 2/3 of the oaks, but in the upper part we’ve lost only about 20%, and most of the other trees are doing OK here. The ash are proving very resilient, and if we do need to re-plant, we might consider using ash as replacement, at least for some of the oaks.
Although the hedge is looking good, it is now missing another 6 trees thanks to the actions of more thieves. This time they took 8 trees with canes and guards, and left 2 of them in the farmer’s field, where I rescued them and put them in a bucket of water to see if they can be saved. One spindle and one field maple tree now hang in the balance.
The warm weather has had compensations: we have had the most successful series of open days ever over Easter, starting with 15 visitors on Tuesday evening, then 15 on Easter Sunday and 40 on Easter Monday, when an Easter Egg hunt complete with quiz about trees and plants coupled with warm sunshine brought out the crowds. It is wonderful to see so many people coming to the woods and learning about trees while having fun.
So we mustn’t grumble if we have to keep carting tonnes of water to keep our little trees alive. Indeed, we now know how much our efforts are appreciated, and this keeps us more motivated to succeed in spite of the best efforts of the weather.