Walkers would be welcome to walk into the field and check on the progress of the wood and orchard.
Planting Grandad’s wood
Why plant a wood?
In 2006 we bought our home in Gunnerside, Anvil Cottage, with the plan to use wood fuel for as much of our energy requirements as possible. We included an Esse wood-burning range in the kitchen which (if running hot enough) will heat the hot water and power the central heating system. We looked hard for a small piece of woodland to provide this fuel, close enough to Gunnerside for collection to have a low environmental impact. We visited perhaps 10 different woods, most for sale through www.woodlands.co.uk and put in bids for a couple of them, but over 3 or 4 years we were unsuccessful. When Roof Farm was put on the market in 6 lots and one of them was Pear House with field of just over 3 acres, we decided to plant our own woodland, put in a bid and were finally successful. The reason for naming it Granddad’s Wood is because by the time Anvil Cottage is truly benefitting from the planting, we expect it will be the grandchildren who will be doing the harvesting.
What about access?
You will see from the map that Pear House and field are well off the main road; if it had been otherwise we would not have been in the bidding at all. From the centre of Gunnerside there is tar road for about half the distance to the field (a total of less that 1 kilometre) but then the approach is up quite a steep stony track which eventually opens out to a “green lane”, part of the ancient Corpse Way track to Low Row and eventually on to the parish church in Grinton.
A Landrover would really struggle to complete the journey to the house, but a quad bike is well suited to that terrain, even to the work of pulling a light trailer when the going is good. Shortly after the purchase we had contact from the land agent to the local moorland estate (Reeth estate, part of Nickerson estates) through the solicitor to indicate that they would not accept any change in use for the field and house, specifically no alteration of access from that previously established (quad-bike or foot).
Preparation for planting the wood
Pear field gently slopes down towards the Swale valley bottom, facing south by south-west facing and very roughly square (100 metres x 100 metres).
It had previously been grazed by Denis and David Alderson, local farmers at Dyke Heads farm. We wanted that to continue, so fenced off about one acre of the east side of the field up against the wooded stream running down that border but outside the perimeter wall. There are two streams within the field, one very small one within this planting area and a larger stream crossing the north-west part of the field which is still available for the grazing sheep. At the same time we fenced off an area just below (south) of Pear House for future planting of an orchard, and a smaller area above Pear House to try and protect from the rabbits as a potential woodland garden (to be named Granny’s Garden as a memorial for Andrew’s mother Betty Harvey who died in 2010 at the age of 96).
Until we acquired Pear House and field, and contrary to what we understood from the land agents who handled the sale, the house and field belonged to the local tribe of rabbits. At the time of writing (5 years later) the situation has only changed to the extent that we have largely reclaimed Pear House by competitive human occupation and activity. When we first visited the house, the stone floor was surprisingly uneven, having sunk in several areas, and it soon became apparent that the rabbit burrow extended immediately under this floor inside the building providing them with good shelter and cover from many predators. Rabbit protection using plastic tree guards was high on the priority list for the tree planting.
Choosing the trees to plant
Our plan was for native woodland, mainly broadleaved but with some native conifers (perhaps to interest the red squirrels as they hopefully return to the northern dales). The Natural History Museum (London) used to offer a database of native species by postcode which we used to draw up a long-list of trees likely to be found in this area. The NHM has now withdrawn this database because of scientific concerns about the data, but our list from them fitted in with our own knowledge and advice from the Yorkshire Dales Authority. The woodland trust also has a well illustrated and informative section on British native trees (see www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/learn/british-trees/native-trees/ )
The final list was (conifers in bold)
- Ash (fraxinus Excelsior) 40
- Oak (quercus robur) 30
- Scots pine (pinus sylvestris) 20
- Silver birch (betula pendula) 15
- White willow (salix alba) 15
- Downy birch (betula pubescens) 10
- Crack willow (salix fragilis) 10
- Alder (alnus glutinosa) 10
- Rowan (sorbus aucuparia) 10
- Beech (fagus sylvatica) 10
- Aspen (populus tremula) 10
- Hawthorn (crataegus monogyna) 5
- Hazel (corylus avellana) 5
- Juniper (juniperus communis) 5
- Hornbeam (carpinus betula) 5
- Maple (acer campestre) 5
- Wych elm (ulmus glabra) 5
- Small-leaved lime (tilia cordata) 5
- Black poplar (populus nigra) 5
- Guelder rose (viburnum opulus) 5
- Crab apple (malus communis) 5
- Whitebeam (sorbus aria) 3
- Bird cherry (prunus padus) 3
- Wild cherry (prunus avium) 3
- Yew (taxus bacata) 3
- Copper beech (fagus sylvatica purpurea) 3
We had a number of hazel, ash, sweet chestnut (castanea sativa), rowan and hawthorn that we had grown from seed; some of the hazel we planted at the same time and the others we kept as potential replacements. The wide range of species was mainly for our interest and education, and in the interests of supporting wildlife diversity; the emphasis on certain species was based on the original purpose of the wood for fuel production so ash as the largest crop, willow for rapid early growth and hazel for coppicing. We learnt soon after planting that oak, our 2nd most frequent tree, doesn’t grow so well at this height above sea level in this area.
Sourcing the trees
We approached the Yorkshire Dales National Parks Authority who provided a Trees and Woodlands Contractors List (primarily services for planting and managing woodland) but also a Tree Nursery List with suitable sources for Yorkshire Dales planting. We chose a local nursery who sourced their trees locally as far as possible and supplied them cell-grown (see their website http://www.ashlandsnurseries.co.uk/ for potential advantages of this growing system). Ken Brown, the owner of the nursery who runs it with his wife and son, is a delightful, straightforward as well as knowledgeable man who has continued to advise and support us through this project.
Planning the planting
Recommendation for planting densities ranged from every 3 metres (1,111/hectare) to every 1 metre (10,000/hectare) depending whether early canopy closure and timber production (denser planting) or slow evolution and wildlife development was the priority. We chose a density below 1000/hectare with average spacing around 4 metres. We planted the willow and alder close to the stream and aspen, birch and maple over on the west side of the wood most visible from the rest of the field, with cherry, crab apple and copper beech also visually prominent on the edge of the wood. The evergreens (Scots pine, yew and juniper) were planted together along the top of the field. We searched for information on planting, protecting and nurturing the young trees and found lots of sources: www.treecouncil.org.uk gave a list of local tree wardens and excellent booklets covering many aspects of sharing the planting process with others in the community. We learnt that there was a tree and woodland officer attached to our local council, and also within the National Parks Authority www.yorkshiredales.org.uk . We had good advice from Geoff Garrett, Senior Trees and Woodlands Officer, Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority. Possibilities of grant funding exist with information available at www.forestry.gov.uk/ewgs (for large plantations), and the tree council ( http://www.treecouncil.org.uk/Grants ) also offers grant support on a simpler and potentially more user-friendly scale.
Planting Saturday 20th to Monday 22nd November 2010
Because of the small size of cell-grown trees we had chosen we were able to collect all 245 trees in our hatchback. Getting all resources up to Pear House was physically strenuous without vehicular access, and we were very fortunate to have support from my sister Althea and brother-in-law John de Carteret (who have extensive experience of natural woodland management and development in north Derbyshire) and from very good friends Sue and Barry Napper (who also had planted and nourished a traditional orchard in north Lincolnshire). We also approached our local school (Reeth Community and Gunnerside Methodist Confederated Primary Schools) to ask if they would find value in use of the developing woodland as a nature and biodiversity project over the years, and if they would be interested in taking part in the planting… we were delighted that they agreed! So, we had three planting days, Sue and Barry and the two of us setting up and testing out the system on day 1, Althea and John joining us with a good part of the planting done on day 2, and then Althea and John and the two of us joined by a good group of children and two teachers from the Gunnerside school finishing off and having a lot of fun on day 3. We were delighted that they also used the day as basis for a journalism class work project, and they shared some of their work with us.
The first winter after planting was cold, and the first spring quite dry. For whichever reason we lost all the aspen, and almost all the juniper and yew, but overall survival was well over 90% for the initial 6 months. Over the first two years we also lost a number of willow, but it was clear from the second year (2012) that the alder and both silver and downy birch were going to grow quickly. We restocked the aspen, juniper and willow (this time including some goat and grey willow, salix caprea and salix cinerea) from Ken Brown at Ashlands nursery, and also replaced some other dead trees with young hazel and ash trees that we had grown. Ken also supplied us with three more mature replacement yew, and since 2013 overall survival has been good.
When talking about survival I do need to mention our relationship with the resident rabbit population, which can be described as a long term stand-off with occasional flares of aggression (on my side) responding to acts of self preservation (on theirs). Usually they will leave a rabbit guard in place once planting is established, but occasionally they will scrape down and find the base of the stem and root and nibble round until the tree dies. This has been particularly likely for the handful of trees that we have planted as field trees, separate from the wood and each surrounded by its own small fence enclosure. This seems to be because the rabbits find the enclosure a comfortable and safe resting place, spend a lot of time thee and choose to scrape as part of making themselves at home.
Making a plantation a woodland
We are impatient for the development of the area as more mature woodland. We have planted some bulbs (bluebell, daffodil, anemone, aconite and snowdrop) but with limited success; some daffodils have flowered and we wait to see if any establish along side the native flowers.
We are hoping to establish some of these species and primrose and hellebore (Christmas rose) in Granny’s Garden and if successful we may be able to propagate them successfully across to the wood. We have also planted a vigorous climbing rose (Kew Rambler, bought from the David Austen nursery), and several rosa rugosa that we grew from seed, to grow along the fence near the gate and down towards the south wall. In growing these next to the fence we have had to defend against sheep as well as rabbits, which has all been a painful education but hopefully will be rewarded by colour not only from the roses (Kew Rambler is a small pink wild-type rose) but also from the hips of the rosa rugosa which are particularly large and colourful.
How is the wood progressing?
By 2014 most of the trees had grown out of the top of the rabbit guard and some had shot up to over six feet. We enjoyed flowers on the Guelder rose and fruit on the alder, were pleased that the Scots pine were flourishing up at the top of the slope (except one that succumbed to the rabbits), and have simply enjoyed watching it all grow.
There have been a few surprises along the way. In winter 2012-3 when heavy snow settled and stayed for a while, the depth of the snow permitted the rabbits to reach over the rabbit guards and cause damage, including eating thorny rose stems and holly leaves; we accept that they must have been very hungry, and simply raised the height of the relevant guards in time for the next snow!
In December 2012 we received a letter from Natural England warning about Ash Dieback, described as a highly infectious disease of ash trees caused by chalara fraxinea fungal infection which causes leaf loss, crown dieback and bark lesions in affected trees. Once a tree is infected the disease is usually fatal, either directly, or indirectly by weakening the tree to the point where it succumbs more readily to attacks by other pests or pathogens, especially Armillaria fungi, or honey fungus. The information indicated that young tress are particularly susceptible. Fortunately we have seen no evidence of infection in our trees and are not aware of any as yet in the local area.
Another surprise has been how poorly the rowan have fared compared to almost all other species in the planting. We anticipated that they would be in their element, and content with the wind and cold; perhaps they are biding their time and putting their energy into good roots to see them through the hard times to come.
From the start the Scots pine have done well but the other conifers have fared less well. The yew particularly have struggled. The Juniper initially also struggled but in 2014 the second planting seemed to establish themselves and by spring 2015 their new growth suggests that they may pull through.
By 2014 the Scots pine were looking good.
In winter 2014-15 the weight of snow on the winter needles pulled several down close enough to the ground for the rabbits to have another go…
By spring they were fighting back and although they may end up a little bare in the middle; they seem well recovered
Some useful links around small woodland management, community use of woodland, and learning woodland crafts
www.thegreenwoodtrust.org.uk promotes woodcraft coppicing skills
www.fieldfare.org.uk looks at access for people with disability