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How to Grow a Woodland

Andy, our jeweller specialised in wood inlay, tells us why and how he’s creating his very own woodland in Cornwall. 

Andy in the workshop

 

I love wood.

There I’ve said it ……got it out in the open!

I love wood in all its forms: in everyday items like buildings and furniture, showing its strength and versatility; in intricate objects like the wood rings we make, showing off its varying grain and hues; most of all I love wood in its most natural form: trees.

Trees are to me the most graceful form of nature, the way they perfectly fill the space between earth and air. They are the giver of precious oxygen and bearer of exquisite fruits. They give us so much but are underappreciated and taken for granted. Trees are cut down without thought for the many years of service they have given this earth. They are felled in unimaginable quantities. I think that’s why I wanted to give something back, wanted to be part of something that would leave this world with hope of a better future. And to begin to make amends for my own careless footprint.

I decided 5 years ago to begin a journey to replant and re-wild a neglected piece of land. I spent a long time searching for the right bit of land, saving money from the two jobs I had.

As always money tends to dictate things. Mine told me I could only afford a few acres. So when I found a 3 acre plot not too far from home, that was it, a quick online search of “How to bid in an auction” and I set off to try my luck.

Several hours later after a lively round of bidding I owned a field!

In hindsight parting with my hard earned savings was the easy bit. Now I needed to come up with a plan to turn a sloping plot of land into a wood. Simple right!? Just get digging.

How big can 3 acres be? It doesn’t sound like a lot. Turns out 3 acres equates to around over 2 football fields or 45 tennis courts. I was beginning to realise the size of the task I had set myself. It was clear I was going to need help, both financially and physically.

I applied and was accepted for a grant from The Woodland Trust. They were great and happily their advice about what trees I should plant matched with what I had hoped: a mixture of native broadleaved trees.

It was decided that The Woodland Trust would deliver me two batches of 600 trees, one that year and one the next. Delighted I wondered if the week I’d booked off for the delivery would be enough time to pop in the 600 saplings. I guessed it could only take a maximum of 10 minutes to plant each tree, hmmm the calculator told me that it would be 100 hours……gulp! It was obvious that I was in need of help. So how do you get a small army of folk down to help? My girlfriend and family were of course contractually obliged to attend and everyone else was bribed with cake and pasties.

I waited nervously for the truck to arrive.

Afew last minute thoughts ran through my head: Did I remember to tell them there is a small bridge to cross that can only take 11 tonnes maximum? Will people come? Had I made enough flapjacks?

The lorry made it over the bridge and the driver reversed it skilfully as close to my gate as he dared. When he opened up the back of the lorry he revealed one solitary pallet containing all 600 trees, stakes and tree guards I would need. Was everything really on this one pallet? When down, the pallet revealed its eight foot height confirming that it was indeed all there.

 

Everything you need to grow a wood

Unwrapped, the saplings looked tiny, most of them under the height of a bar stool. I wondered how they would ever grow into the mighty trees I craved.

I worked out a method that got the trees in as quick as I could. It went: Spade in deep, push the spade back and forth to make a V-shaped groove, then carefully put the sapling roots down into the channel, and holding with one hand push the earth back around using an accurately placed heel. Then the plastic tree protector over the sapling, stake through the loops of the protector, hammer the steak home, tighten the loops. The field was marked out roughly half and half diagonally with a path between them, the half for this years planting marked with bamboo canes. Starting with the edge and smaller bushes and trees it was looking like quite a task.

Help began to arrive.

The weather was dry and bright, slowly things looked possible. People came and went steadily the firsts few days. The support was very motivating. I was thrilled when people arrived and tried not to be too prescriptive as I insisted on showing them my method of planting. Folk dutifully watched and then took one of the borrowed spades and hammer and set to work.

 

plating a woodland

 

The only exception was my Dad, who after a lifetime of gardening insisted on putting every tree in ‘properly’. Each tree would have a hole dug, carefully put back in, then the soil scattered by hand and pushed over the roots. In his diligence he worked solidly and without any murmur of ever being tired.

It was going well, we’d hit over the halfway point. My Dad had to travel the 300 miles back home. As he left the fair weather seemed to depart with him, along with the appeal of putting in the last 200 or so trees. It is to the credit of my girlfriend and her mum that I made it to the end. They ploughed on through the cold and the rain until the last of the trees were in. I knew that was only half of the plant done but it certainly felt like a huge achievement.

 

Plating a woodland

 

The year went by without having to do too much to the semi-wood. With just a few visits to check they’d all come into leaf, remove any aggressive weeds growing up the protective tubes and see that the renowned Cornish winds hadn’t blown too many of the delicate saplings over. The losses were small just a handful hadn’t made it. It felt good to visit, even though all you could really see was a field half full of plastic tree guards.

Late winter came, the ideal time for planting as the ground is wet and the tree is still dormant and can put its energy into establishing new roots.

So we began again.

I knew what to expect. Friends and family enlisted and quiet words were had with the weather maker. I hoped for a smooth week of planting. People came and helped. It felt easier (presumably because I had trained them so well the year before).

It was done.

Land full of fledgling young trees. Dare I now call it a woods? According to the Oxford English a wood is

“an area of land, smaller than a forest, that is covered with growing trees”

It is a wood!

Mission accomplished.

 

 

I visit frequently and enjoy its transformation (albeit too slow for my impatient nature). It felt like a landmark after the first trees surpassed my own height. Every time I go, I see nature working its magic. There’s nothing like springtime, when after the dormant autumn and winter months I get to see it fill with leafed trees. Nothing more satisfying than to pick fruit from a tree you’ve planted. I’ve harvested just enough to make some apple crumble!

How to grow a wood How to grow a wood

Do I feel like I’ve done enough?

Have I made up for my own impact on this earth?

In short no, but I am reassured that I’ve gone some way towards it. I’ve researched my own carbon footprint, which is roughly 10 tonnes of CO2 annually (think volume-wise, that every tonne is about the size of a medium detached house) so my lifetime I could accumulate to 800 tonnes of CO2 plus. My new wood, if I assume that my woods survive to maturity and last to cover my 80 years. Then they could potentially sequester up to 1,332 tonnes of CO2. Yay job done right?

Sadly not just yet, we’re cutting forests down at much too an alarming rate to rest there. I am, however, an optimist and I believe that people are realising the power and impact they can have individually and collectively to correct our course and help protect our precious earth for future generations to enjoy.

Would I do it all again? …..Well with the hard work a distant memory, YES! Maybe someone kind soul could buy me some more land and I can go for another reforesting. Or even better you could plant your own Wood.

 

Flowering fruit tree
Words and pictures by Andy Dayton

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