At Woods for the Trees we aim, rather like a match-making service, to identify parcels of currently unproductive land and match them with groups willing to take on their planting and/or management as small woods or orchards. Farmers, landowners and other partners who can identify plots – anything from a quarter of an acre upwards – that they would be willing to turn over to tree cover for at least 25 years, are invited to upload details onto the website, where prospective planters and woodland guardians can sign up to contribute their labour, ideas and even funds.
Woods for the Trees acts as a facilitator and advisory body only.
Each participant landowner and volunteer group would sign a legal covenant of intent and obligation to cover responsibilities and terms. Suitable insurance will be arranged by the volunteer group acting either as a Community Interest enterprise with charitable status or through some other suitable vehicle such as a village trust. The legal agreement will be between the landowner and the participating group.
Each parcel of land would require a management plan – these might be eligible for grant support from the Forestry Commission. In addition, Woodland Creation Grants (based on a ten-year programme) are available for the establishment woods above 3 hectares or about 8 acres. The management plan would specify planting schemes and future management strategies appropriate for the size, location and available volunteer pool.
Priorities for planting would include landscape value; habitat value; social and educational engagement and ongoing amenity value; and potential produce, with an emphasis on planting native, locally sourced species.
Model 1: plots less than 0.5 acres (0.2ha)
This size of plot would be suitable for a ‘forest garden’: native British trees and shrubs of small or medium size planted for pollinators, to produce fruit and nuts and to create a concentrated habitat for birds, mammals and invertebrates. Plots may be suitable for the siting of a wildlife pond and bird boxes. Forest gardens can be productive within three years of planting.
Suitable plants might include: fruit trees (crab apple; cultivated apple; plum; cherry); hazel; fruit bushes (redcurrant; raspberry; goosberry etc); blackthorn; guelder rose; rowan and holly. For a small community group, provision of trees from seed or nuts, cuttings and grafting or through personal donation would be possible. Planting days and ongoing work days would be self-organised by the group.
Model 2: plots over 0.5 acres and less than 8 acres (3ha)
This model covers plots that are not eligible for Woodland Creation Grants because of thir size but which, nevertheless, may provide substantial tree coverage. The aim is to generate meaningful cover in a short time; to provide ample ‘rides’ or wide tracks to allow for maximum habitat benefit and foot and vehicle access; to protect young trees from wind damage and deer/livestock browsing. Woods of this size will eventually yield firewood, fencing materials and charcoal from which to generate a small supporting income for the project, whilst providing a valuable community and amenity asset. Two methods of establishing suitable woodlands are considered.
Method 1 involves the exclusion of browsing animals, particularly deer and rabbits, by suitable fencing, followed by the tilling and weeding of the soil and the sowing of tree seeds/seedlings sourced as locally as possible. Trees of the colonising type – birch, willow, hazel, Scots pine – may be planted at high densities to allow for predation and later weeding (or selling on). These trees will establish cover, habitat and shelter within five or so years, at a relatively low cost and with a relatively small labour force.
Method 2 involves planting trees of various ages individually and providing them with tree shelters and stake support. A wider variety of medium-sized and canopy species may be appropriate – such as oak, beech, alder, birch, hazel and wild cherry. Depending on levels of funding available to the group, a mixture of whips (1 year old seedlings) and larger specimens might be planted. This method is relatively expensive in labour and capital costs and is suitable for long-term projects where sustained community engagement can be assured.
Model 3: plots over 8 acres (3ha)
Large areas of land suitable for establishing permanent woods would generally be eligible for capital funding under the Woodland Creation scheme, requiring a full management plan and registration with the Rural Payments Agency. Either the landowner or the ‘tenant’ would be enabled to apply for the scheme. Such large areas would, after about ten years, be productive of firewood, charcoal and fencing materials.
Case study 1
A scrubby parcel of land next to a side road, where fly tipping and casual littering is both an eyesore and an ongoing cost. A local village trust and primary school get together to arrange removal of tipped waste, litter pick, plant trees that they have grown from seed and cuttings and establish a small community orchard. They install signage to explain what they are doing, organise regular working parties and hold fund-raising picnics. The school uses the orchard as an outdoor classroom. All ages and abilities are engaged and feel they are making a significant local contribution.
Case study 2
A farmer has a strip of land too irregular , steep and muddy to cultivate profitably. He or she can include it as part of a Countryside Stewardship application but does not have the time to plant it and tend it. A local group works with the farmer to establish a small woodland; they share the firewood produced from the trees. Nearby fields flood less often and the trees act as a valuable windbreak, sheltering the farmer’s sheep. The trees also hide an unsightly industrial building.
Considerations for all models
1. Sustained commitment of both parties
Enhancing and maintaining the integrity of the earth requires long-term commitments. Trees do not, in their early years, look after themselves. Volunteers and groups must consider how they can sustain funding and labour for at least a decade ahead.
2. Woods for the Trees is a social enterprise
Exclusivity is discouraged; inclusivity is encouraged – of age, gender, identity and ability.
3. Environmental impacts
All tree planting schemes should duly consider relevant local and national planning guidelines and the potential environmental impacts of the project, including any existing restrictions (SSSIs, scheduled monuments etc) and habitats that might need protecting. Trees are not always the most appropriate cover. If in doubt, the parties should consult the appropriate authorities before committing to a plan of action.