There is more to creating a woodland than just planting trees

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Many people, and, apparently, even most governments, seem to think that all that is needed to create a woodland is to stick some trees in the ground and the rest will do itself. Alas, that is a fallacy.

Just planting trees and leaving them for Mother Nature to do its work is a waste of trees, money, time and effort and will lead to nothing but disaster. Mother Nature, unfortunately, is not the best gardener and forester, and especially when the woodland is not caused by natural regeneration but has been man-made.

Left to its own devices, and Mother Nature's care, brambles and other such will soon smother the newly planted trees and that will be it. Unfortunately many do not realize this and believe, as said above, that all that is needed to establish new woodlands is to plant some trees and leave them be. They also do not want to listen to those who have worked the woods for generations often.

Newly planted trees to create a woodland are planted relatively close together in order for them to raise each other up, so to speak. But that only works if man helps them along as well by keeping any weeds and such at bay so that the young trees do not get smothered. That also must be done in newly coppiced areas and natural regeneration if one wants the woods to live and thrive. Protection from browsing deer and other animals may also be required.

Then, after a while, thinning will be required, which means first those trees are cut that are weak, sick, of bad growth and stature, overbearing thus suppressing others, and such like. This brings in space and light allowing the other trees to better develop.

While our woodlands are to have amenity value and be a valuable habitat for wildlife, as well as, in today's thinking “carbon sinks”, they are also created, or should be so, as a source for homegrown timber from which to make all manner of things from wood.

There was a time when woods, old and new ones, were much better managed than they are today with trees even being “pruned” in order to grow more or less knot-free trunks and this was the “by hook and by crook” method of brashing, often done by youngsters, children even, and also and especially those that had the estovers' rights to firewood from those means.

We also used to grow our own trees, either by natural regeneration and protecting them, or in our own nurseries on the farms, estates, what have you, where the trees were grown from seed and only planted in the area from whence the seeds were taken because many trees behave like hefted sheep in that they like the area of their parents and do not, necessarily, thrive when planted elsewhere. Unlike today where we gather the seeds here, as in the case of the ash, which apparently brought ash dieback to our shores, send the seeds to countries such as Belgium and Denmark, have the nurseries there grow the seeds into trees and then import them. That to me is about the same as importing tulips to Amsterdam. Apparently it is cheaper to do it this way than to have our own forest tree nurseries and cost is, it would seem, all that counts nowadays, but I digressed, as I often do.

Depending on whether the woodland created is intended to be worked by coppicing, coppice with standards, or as standards, depends on whether there will be more thinning cycles.

If the woodland is to be worked in coppice rotation then there will be no further thinning cycles required as the cutting will be done, a parcel at a time, from the time of or even before the second thinning. In the second case, the coppice with standards there will also be no further thinning while in the last case there will be at least two more thinnings before the trees are able to grow without further “interference”.

The timber resulting from all thinnings should be, in one way or the other, depending on trunk thickness and structure, turned into forest produce and products, even if only firewood.

But until we get to the fist thinning even there is lots of work to be done in the new woods, such as keeping vegetation at bay from encroaching upon and smothering the young trees and even whips of a couple of years old need that kind of care and this work goes on for month after month, and year after year until the first thinning. After that the trees will, more or less, be big enough to continue, more or less, on their own.

This is all work, I am afraid, that Mother Nature is not going to do for us and lots of work it is.
So, if you just want to stick some whips in the ground and then forget about them in the hope that it will be a nice woodland in some ten, twenty or so years, forget about even setting out on that path. All you will end up with is an overgrown tangle of wilderness that is no good to beast or man, and wasted effort, time and money.

© 2020