Thistle Wood blog

My trees: progress report

It’s July 2020; and in this strange new world it’s a relief to watch the natural cycle of the seasons offer some sense that the world still turns.  Except that, this year, even the weather has been weird.  We had one of the wettest winters I can remember in the North-east; then a very warm, very dry April and May, before something more familiar: a breezy, mild but quite rainy June and July. 

Last winter I planted a score of Scots pines – nice plants with good roots – scattered in small clumps where I wanted a little extra shelter or a clump of more architectural shape.  Scots pines are pretty hardy, but few trees can tolerate drought in their first season before their roots have established themselves.  The ground cracks around them leaving air pockets; the roots dry and the young tree can fail rapidly.  So I lost maybe ten of them – very disappointing. 

On the other hand, the hot spring brought many trees early into leaf and while a few of the more recently planted trees, especially silver birch, were a little stressed by the heat, in general the trees have recovered well.  Almost all the trees that suffered heavy deer browsing over the last few years have now recovered after having been coppiced – cut down to ground level – and then protected with translucent tree shelters, supported by firm stakes.  Thistle Wood does, now, look like a young wood, rather than a field of sticks.


It’s often said, and written, that ancient native woodlands are irreplaceably rich habitats; and that is quite true.  But it’s not the case that newly planted woods have little to offer in the way of wildlife.  Thistle Wood has not seen a plough, sheep or chemical for six years.  Tree cover is beginning to offer shelter for birds and many rodents; young trees, thistles and other wild flowers attract insects.  We have often seen foxes, brown hare, a pair of kestrels and the red kites for which the Derwent valley is famous. 

But this year we have been blessed with no less than three pairs of hunting owls – seen almost every evening during the breeding season when their hungry young have kept them busy.  We have two pairs of barn owls and a pair of long-eared owls – acrobatic, long-winged, amber eyed predators who thrive on our very healthy rodent population.  They have been quite something to watch; and an indicator of the environmental health of our land.

Tips and tricks: fore!

On my routine patrol through the trees, checking for deer damage, wobbly stakes and wind damage, I carry a more or less standard kit: a sharp hatchet, which I use mostly as a hammer to bang stakes in more firmly; a pair of secateurs for trimming; plastic cable ties (a necessary evil); a small pruning saw; and a bag to carry tree protection tubes and stakes. 

I’ve tried using a rucksack, but always find I have too much to carry.  I’ve tried using a wheelbarrow, but plastic tubes and stakes always seem to escape it.  What I need is something that will handle the terrain – smoothly mown rides and very tall, clumpy grass off piste – and can carry everything I need accessibly. 

Eventually inspiration struck, and after a call to my mother-in-law (a keen golfer), her spare golf cart appeared.  I’ve rigged it out with a small cylinder made from offcut fencing and a work belt.  Voila: on the fairway and in the rough, it’s the perfect woodsman’s kit carrier. 

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