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Hitting the ground running… with a spade… and 28,592 trees!

Photo: Angus Tamblyn. Me (Tamar) jumping for joy after a full day of planting.

I was lucky enough to join the team at Land and Heritage as a Woodlands and Countryside Manager in early December 2021, after five years as a Countryside Ranger at Mount Edgcumbe Country Park. Working outdoors is such a privilege and making a positive impact on the environment has always been a passion of mine, so the opportunity to work with a consultancy specialising in landscape planning, management and conservation was perfect for me.

After a short month of settling in and learning how the company works, meeting everyone, and completing a handful of tree safety surveys, I began my first major tree planting project. Tasked with managing a small group of tree planters or varying planting experience, I had just over two months to get 28,592 in the ground before planting season was over. A nice small project to ease me into my new job, right…?

I have to admit, I did feel the pressure to deliver on this project, especially given all the hours, weeks, months and even years(!) put in by the team to secure various grants and applications. These started in 2019 with a grant from Forestry Commission (England) to prepare a Woodland Creation Plan. Previous efforts to secure grant aid had failed due to complications with archaeology, landscape and nature conservation, so there were a lot of issues to resolve for this project to proceed! A Countryside Stewardship grant was eventually secured for the planting but arrived in April – too late for the 2020/21 planting season. But every cloud has a silver lining and we were able to transfer the proposed scheme to the new England Woodland Creation Offer (EWCO), which delivered a substantially increased level of grant aid for our client. Alongside this grant we are also seeking to sell the carbon credits from this planting scheme, delivering an additional source of income for the landowner. To achieve this the planting has been registered with the Woodland Carbon Code and we hope to achieve a good price for the carbon units via our registration as expert providers with the Forest Canopy Foundation.

Photo: Tamar Powlesland. Sunrise over our spades and newly planted shelter belt.

The site is situated near Penzance, owned by Mr Paul Connell. Paul’s objective was “to create a woodland of high landscape quality and value to wildlife in an area where overall woodland cover is very low, that can be enjoyed by local people and visitors alike.” The previous owner had used the site for growing potatoes, but Paul had been managing the site organically, grazing with cattle and then cropping for silage. The 14 hectares of grass fields are located within the Cornwall Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and once completed, the woods will connect ancient valley woodlands with the wild open moorland. A public footpath runs south to north through the centre, popular with dog walkers from the local hamlet. Views across to Chysauster (ancient settlement) are an important aspect of the footpath, so the planting pattern had to be designed to avoid obstructing this view. The positioning or rides and glades allowed for enough open space to allow for the view to be maintained and the footpath to be clear, whilst providing an extensive edge habitat to support birds and mammals.

Photo: Tamar Powlesland. Trees arriving at the farm.

Planting began immediately in early January. Initially shelter belts were put in first to give a planting pattern guide to follow. To avoid unnatural regimented straight lines, the trees were planted in curves that will also aid in deflecting wind while the woodland establishes. Italian alder and sycamore made up the shelter belts as these are fast growing species that will provide protection to the other trees as they establish. Once these were planted, other tree species were planted in groups of 25-50. The species mix included an array of native trees, such as oak, birch, and beech. Minor species and native shrubs were included in the mix for biodiversity and resilience.

Photo: Tamar Powlesland. Planting patterns and other plans.

For the most part, the weather was very kind to us. We worked from sunrise to sunset most days, allowing us to make the most of the Cornish winter sunshine. There were only a couple of frosts that made the ground a little trickier to dig, a few days of ‘liquid sunshine’, storm Eunice made an appearance and a day of hailstorms made for an interesting challenge - but variety is the spice of life, isn’t it? Another morning we found a cheeky shrew hiding in the hornbeam plants, but fortunately not yet munching the roots!

Photo: Tamar Powlesland. A cheeky shrew hiding in the hornbeam.

Planting is however only the start of the job, with a ten year programme of maintenance included in the grant agreement. Three deer seats have installed to allow a stalker to effectively manage the deer population to reduce the damage caused by the animals grazing. As soon as I’d finished planting in March, I completed my pesticide and herbicide spraying courses, which allowed me to spray a small area around each tree with herbicide. This does not harm the tree, when applied correctly, and reduces the conflict for water by grass and other vegetation growing at the base of the trees, leading to improved survival rates. It will also prevent the new planting from getting smothered by fast growing so called ‘weeds’ that will outcompete the trees for light.

Photo: Tamar Powlesland. Spraying around trees.

The Forestry Commission visited the site in mid-April and we passed the EWCO inspection with flying colours. I am delighted with this – not only is it a reflection on how well the team preformed, but it was a massive relief to know that I had completed my first planting project successfully! I am so proud of the planting team and very grateful for all the blood, sweat and tears they put into creating this new woodland for hundreds or years to come. I am also very thankful to the landowner, Paul, for being so generous with his time and helping us out with his tractor and giving up his space to accommodate us. Regular maintenance of the site will give me the perfect excuse to watch the woodland grown and appreciate the new habitat we have created.

Photo: Tamar Powlesland.

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