Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Habitat Creation

For the last week or so i've been busy on a rather fun little project over in East Somerset, near Frome. The project started late last year when a couple I know approached me for advice on how to increase the wildlife value of one of their horse paddocks. They own 5 paddocks totalling 7 hectares, and as they have reduced the size of their herd in recent years have not needed to graze all their land. The furthest paddock from the stables, sized at 4 acres, has always been poor grazing and so they decided to turn it into a nature reserve! About half of the paddock was grass, 'improved' with fertilisers and weedkillers and as such holding very little wildlife. The grass is so dominant here that it would take a long time for anything else to get established, so I suggested we plant it up to turn it into a woodland. They were happy with this idea, and I was delighted when they asked if I could do the work for them. I set about designing a woodland, a much more complicated task than it sounds, involving choosing the right species mix, planning what would be planted where, and shaping rides, edges and glades to maximise biodiversity. The planting itself didn't take too long at all, just 5 days for two of us to plant 500 trees, each protected from deer browsing by a tree guard. The guards are a bit unsightly (and the most expensive component of the woodland) but absolutely necessary to allow the trees to grow without having the fresh growth nibbled off by the many Roe Deer we have around here. It's not particularly natural, but seeing as how us humans have removed Lynx, Bear, Wolf and all the other Deer predators from the country, we didn't have much choice.
The rest of the paddock is rather boggy and has been so sparsely grazed over the last 20 years that it is gradually being taken over by nettles, burdock, rosebay willowherb and the like. I've decided to largely leave this area as it is and let nature have its wicked way with it. I have though dug a few little ponds, mainly to see what their water retention is like in the summer to evaluate if digging out some larger ponds will be worthwhile, watch this pace for news on that side of things!



Another view

Now the hard work of planting the trees is over, the agonising wait whilst they grow begins. I'm not sure that i've quite got my head around the fact that its going to take years and years for many of these these trees to reach maturity, and for some species, like the Oaks it won't be until i'm on old man that they even begin to approach their full glory. Fortunately, the majority of the trees are Hazel, a quick growing species and fairly well grown already too, so the woodland should mature enough to provide some wildlife value in 4-5 years. Still a long time in this 'on-demand' world we live in.
I went down to the site this afternoon for a little look, and peering down the guards was pleased (and a little relieved) to see that most of them had some degree of leafage starting to appear, aided no doubt by the mild weather we're having. It was strange looking into the tubular guards, and to be honest it felt a bit wrong seeing 'wild' trees growing in such a protective cocoon.


This has been a really satisfying project to run, from the initial site assessment, planning the species composition and shape of the woodland, right through to the muddy-hands work of planting, and i'm keen to work on similar things in the future. Somerset currently has a pathetic woodland cover of just 7% (compared to a UK average of 12% and a European average of 31%), so little projects like this can add up to make quite a difference. As well as providing habitat for countless invertebrates, birds and mammals, woodland can have great positive impacts on flood reduction too, as has been widely discussed following the catastrophic weather in Somerset lately. If you would be interested in undertaking a similar project, however large or small, even if its just for a small corner of an urban garden, do contact me at and i'll be happy to offer some free advice, and if you like, discuss what it would involve to create something similar to this project.

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