Those lucky enough to own or have management control over substantial areas of land are invariably aware of their great responsibility in tending to their charge in the best possible way. In an ever changing world, one of the few certainties is that land will be here for evermore and, as a finite resource, it will inevitably become even more precious in the future. As one astute landowner put it, “They don’t make it any more!” The guardians of the land have to perform a difficult balancing act between financial profitability and ecological correctness but most agree that woodland creation can be a wonderful way to assist and encourage biodiversity along with many practical environmental benefits such as helping to reduce problems of water pollution and flooding.
The benefits of such woodlands are also widely recognised by national governments and in many cases, financial assistance is available to help facilitate the creation and ongoing maintenance of new woodlands. In England, this takes the form of a “Woodland Creation Grant” administered by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA). There are essential differences between commercial forestry and woodland creation and forestry inevitably focuses on timber production usually involving non-native species of fast-growing conifers. Woodlands, on the other hand, tend to contain mainly native species and although in the long term such woodlands can be commercially profitable, it must be realised that such woodlands will not reach maturity for many decades meaning that all planning is done in order to benefit future generations. If you are not able to wait that long then you can look for woodland for sale to get immediate satisfaction and use of the woodland.
A Woodland Creation Grant can assist with the start-up costs of establishing the woodland and the level of the grant currently stands at a maximum of £6,800 per hectare averaged out over the whole of the site. This can cover the purchase and planting of trees along with suitable protective measures such as spiral guards, fencing, gates and other measures to help protected species such as badgers while protecting the young trees from deer, sheep and rabbits. Once the new woodland has been planted, it may be possible to then obtain a Woodland Creation Maintenance Grant for the next ten years. The government grant schemes are quite complex and applications are only allowed within a relatively short window, typically between January and March in order to allow for the site to be visited and inspected by a Forestry Commission Woodland Officer. There are many conditions which must be satisfied but this is probably the best way to create a new woodland.
Trees should be predominantly native species but there is some leeway allowing for a percentage of non-natives. The most likely reason for this is because some species are so well known in this country that they have acquired “honorary” native credentials. Some others are regarded as “advancing” as climate change results in the alteration of species’ boundaries. The true list of UK native trees is as follows: alder, ash, aspen, beech, birch, blackthorn, box, buckthorn, cherry, crab apple, dogwood, elder, elm, hawthorn, hazel, holly, hornbeam, juniper, lime, maple, oak, poplar, rowan, scots pine, spindle, whitebeam, wild service tree, willow and yew. There are some surprising omissions such as the European trees, sycamore, holm oak, sweet chestnut and horse chestnut. Even among the native trees, some only grow successfully in certain parts of the UK. Beech is particularly fussy and scots pine has never actually been native to England.
For those unable or unwilling to meet the requirements of the formal grant-aided schemes, there is no reason why woodland creation cannot go ahead on a self-financed basis. The first consideration is the planning aspect and the advice of the local planning officer should be sought. The design of the site should incorporate many of the features stipulated for the grant-aided sites including giving adequate consideration to the water aspects. Saplings can be purchased at reasonable costs but for those wishing to keep costs down and being in no particular hurry, there is no reason why some of the trees cannot be raised from seed. Unfortunately, this is rather more complex than growing a few flowers in the garden and each type of tree seed has very specific requirements often including a period of “stratification” during which the seeds need to be refrigerated in order to replicate a cold winter. This can be complex and unpredictable but there is a great deal of advice available and achieving the successful germination of difficult seeds is extremely satisfying. This, of course, is only the start of the journey and there are often heavy losses between germination and reaching the sapling stage ready for planting. It should also be remembered that reaching the sapling stage can take a period of several years so raising trees from seed should be regarded as being a way of providing stock for future years rather than a primary way of creating a woodland. The choice of seed is also very important and it should only be obtained from an accredited supplier. Given the unpredictability of climate change and global warming, it is impossible to know whether today’s species will continue to thrive in decades to come and it is recommended that at least some of the tree seeds planted should be sourced from warmer climes. Expert opinion says that seeds collected from trees at a latitude two to five degrees further south than the UK are most likely to be successful assuming that average temperatures increase in years to come. Seeds from eastern Europe, however, have proved to be unsuitable for the UK in most instances.
Planning the new woodland is perhaps one of the most exciting of all tasks and it should be done with full consideration for encouraging biodiversity of plant and animal life. Trees should be planted in informal blocks with a good mix of different species along with some clearings allowing for marginal plants and grazing animals. Creating suitable habitats for nesting birds should also be considered and plants which attract insects and provide cover all help to create a suitable ecosystem. Woodland creation requires determination, imagination and financial commitment. It is probably the greatest legacy that any of us could ever hope to leave. The only downside is that this is such a long-term project that none of us will ever plant a new wood and live to see it reach full maturity. Those who plant trees, therefore, must have the gift of being able to see into the future and plan their projects as though they are going to live forever!