Land Manager's Diary: Read it here>

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It has been a pretty wet, grey and miserable March in the Lake District with little sunshine or warmth. But, Monday was a momentous day for several reasons. We awoke to clear blue skies and sunshine that remained with us late into the evening. It was one of those early spring idyllic days where it was a joy to be alive outside. You could hear the birds singing and the see the plants growing as like us, they soaked up the sun. But it was also momentous as it was our final day ever of planting trees at High Borrowdale.

18 years after we began, around 20,000 trees later and we have finished! There are still years of staking trees and tubes ahead of us, and then of course removing them when the trees grow, but it was still a bit of an emotional experience. Our contractors and hardy volunteers have battled all weathers, dealt with floods, voles, deer, invading sheep and have worked so hard to help. We have also had so many generous gifts from members and friends, both trees and donations.

Our motivation for planting was of course to enhance the landscape, but there were other reasons too which have come much more to the fore in recent years : carbon sequestration, slow the flow of water, habitat connectivity, soil stabilisation and so on.

The shock to us and the organisations we work with however has been just how hard it is to get trees to grow in this valley. When formulating our plans we took lots of advice and it was overwhelmingly that the valley had once had trees, the eastern end has ancient semi natural woodland after all. It would be good to put some back. But when you compare rates of growth of new trees in High Borrowdale to say Sweden Wood or Mike’s Wood, it is like being on a different planet. Why should that be, and why when everyone in theory says plant trees, has it been so hard?

We have concluded that new trees can withstand one or two poor conditions or extremes, but at High Borrowdale, we have a myriad of things all coming together in force. This includes poor soils, high rainfall, high winds, deer and vole invasions (despite deer fencing and tree guards) and when all put together and happening at the same time, no wonder the trees feel a bit reluctant to grow!

Our funders, the Forestry Commission (FC) and Rural Payments Agency have not been happy for years and so a few years ago we voluntarily undertook to do more planting to cover the losses. Last year they decided they wanted their money back. We appealed and said we have taken all the advice we could, have done everything physically possible and that the learning was that some sites are so extreme that this is what happens. To us, this has been a really important site to learn from and we have long encouraged the FC to learn too and think twice about other similar sites with similar conditions. Luckily we won our case with an independent inspector, but alas the FC decided they did not need to learn any lessons from the site.

Today we are encouraged to plant, plant and plant and there are various mantras such as “right tree in the right place”. Well we planted the right trees – native broadleaves and from hardy Scotland, but is this the right place in reality? It has taken a phenomenal amount of work to get things to grow, more than most land owners and managers would be able to commit as they do not have such dedicated volunteers to help and even with this help, growth rates are debatable.

We will persevere with our trees but standing back and pondering in the sunshine on Monday, it was worth reflecting on our experiences and how we can share that learning with others who may be about to embark on new planting.

The benefit of our land and different types of land is that we can do just that and compare and contrast situations.

We will be doing just that on our next workparty on 19th April at Gillside Wood at Grasmere where growth rates really have been phenomenal (sheltered valley, low vole, deer and sheep numbers…). Do join us if you can! You'll need to book at the link:

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