Betty’s Wood – Three Years On

Young woodland path

Young woodland path – trees 2-3 metres tall

In October 2010, we bought a 9 acre field to add to our 11 acres of ancient woodland. During the early part of 2011, it was planted with 6500 little trees, and we carved out wildflower meadows, hedgerows, ponds in the wet areas, open areas, and areas for natural regeneration to take place. In summer 2011, it was a field populated by canes and tree-guarded, the little trees just peeking over the top of those guards in places.

Planting young trees

Planting young trees

Seasons came and went. The little trees were subjected to a drought during their first year, an extremely harsh winter in 2012-13 with a lot of snow and freezing weather, and floods earlier this year, during which you could paddle in the lower part of Betty’s Wood.

Betty's Wood from adjacent field

Betty’s Wood from adjacent field

We were very careful to choose our species mix well. We wanted to improve the site for wildlife, but could see no advantage in planting species that do not grow well in the local area. We also took account of the lie of the land and microclimate – one of the reasons why we didn’t plant trees immediately, but took a few months to get the feel of the place. Wet-tolerant species went in areas inclined to be damp. Species that like fertile soil nearer the top, where the former arable site is quite fertile. Cloning willow already growing on the site. Using self-set seedlings of birch, willow, oak and ash. But also choosing species that produce seeds and fruits for wildlife, good shelter for wildlife, and will produce a sustainable coppice and timber crop in future – hazel, willow, alder, oak, ash, cherry, rowan and others.

Mowing the meadow

Mowing the meadow during the first summer

It has not been all plain sailing, but the woods are really starting to shine now. Instead of walking in a field with sticks, we are now walking along young woodland paths. We can stand in the shade of our own little trees. We can sit with our backs against the trunks of these little trees and enjoy the view. The little trees offer shelter from the wind for insects and people alike. The ponds are really coming alive, with 16 species of dragonfly and damselfly seen here this year. Target species of butterflies have come into our meadows. Little birds are now perching in the young trees, particularly goldfinches and blue tits. Long-tailed tits and other birds are using our hedgerow as a pathway between our own woods and another piece of woodland, just as we hoped. We are producing an increasing quantity of hay for local horses. This year we harvested hazelnuts from our young trees for the first time. Leaf litter is starting to build up in places under the clumps of trees. In the wet areas, marsh orchids and cowslips are spreading and increasing in numbers.

Young trees in the landscape

Young trees in the landscape a few years on

It is not often that you get the opportunity to change the landscape, and make something that is both beautiful and functional. We were very privileged to be able to do this and it is very exciting. Every year turns up some surprises. What is particularly lovely is to see the self-set regeneration areas merging with the planted areas, possible because of what we think is a good choice of trees and careful attention to the landscape, soil and microclimate. It will not be long before we can take our first coppice cut in some places, nor will it be too many years before we can lay the hedge. It is truly becoming a woodland, as we hoped it would.

Young trees with woodland ride

Young trees with woodland ride – trees now over 2 metres tall

Ponds are now vegetation rich

Ponds are now vegetation rich

10 thoughts on “Betty’s Wood – Three Years On

  1. Out of interest, did you plant the 6500 trees by hand?! I’d love to know a rough idea of the total tree and planting cost (assuming you used contractors to plant them) if you wouldn’t mind, perhaps via e-mail? Thank you.

    • Not at all. We planted all by hand, with help of some amazingly hardy volunteers. About 5000 trees in the wood, 800 in the hedge and the rest by either cloning or regeneration. We planted them ourselves, no contractors. We managed about 700-800 each weekend. The cost buying in quantity was about £1 for a tree (50-60cm), a cane and a spiral guard. We used canes and guards also for the self-set trees to protect mainly against rabbits but also muntjac. A few have been damaged but overall the loss has been only 5% lost and 1% stolen.

  2. Thank you. That’s impressive – I’d like to plant a woodland one day, but I don’t have the land yet. Then I’ll have to see if I can recruit some volunteers – think it might take me a while on my own!

  3. We press-ganged the family, as well as using social media and the local paper to get volunteers, along with our contacts with other local wildlife groups. We organised the work, so we had trees delivered on Thursday, marked out the area and individual planting spots on the Friday, and then planted on the Saturday and Sunday. Doing it this way it meant that volunteers who were less experienced kept the spacing and species mix correct. Some days we were left on our own, but usually there was at least one volunteer – this meant we could have one digging, one planting and one doing the cane and guard. You can get a lot done with organised teamwork 🙂

  4. This is a wonderful story & I hope that you have been keeping a good diary so that writing your book, for publication of course, will be made easier. I’d really love to visit the area as I’m sure seeing it in the flesh so to speak would be amazing.

  5. Really great work for nature and so lovely to see and read about the changes on your land.I hope we can eventually do the same but already have some ancient trees.

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