Tree planting extravaganza

I am feeling proud. Last week we planted around 600 trees on the farm. They are not fruit trees, but they are a part of the orchard.

Inspired by some bold planting last winter at our neighbours, Hammonds Farm, and saddened by the very ragged state of the hedge at the southern end of the orchard field, I started hatching a plan with Nat from the dairy to create a big shelterbelt to protect both the cows and the orchard. It seemed like it could be a brilliant use for a slightly odd shaped slice of the field. A slice which gets boggy at the bottom, which is encroached by brambles in parts, and which is very exposed to the prevailing wind that comes whistling straight up the valley from the Severn.

But for a while the shelterbelt idea just sat there as a hazy, and possibly over ambitious, dream.

Then back in early summer, the Tree Council, a small national charity, asked if we’d like to host one of their corporate volunteer days as part of National Tree Week. They would bring around 30 corporate volunteers to the farm for a day, organise the food, do the risk assessments, and pay for any tools and materials needed. All we needed to do was give them some jobs to do. Preferably involving planting lots and lots of trees.

Of course it wasn’t quite that simple, because life never is. But, after measuring, planning, consulting, emailing, sketching, coordinating, sourcing, and zooming (whilst plying my kids with library books and chocolate biscuits), over the past few months, the grand day finally dawned.

Ranks of wheelbarrows were lined up in the winter sunshine, homemade muffins and coffee were laid out in welcome, and a portaloo was installed at the end of the track. The guys from the Tree Council had done an amazing job preparing, planning and organising. And from there the day rolled on really smoothly! We had around 25 volunteers from several different companies coming from as far away as London, plus staff from the Tree Council, a strong showing from the Oakbrook enterprises, and even a group from The Grove home education project.

Between us we planted, guarded and mulched about 600 trees, including fruiting hedgerow species such as blackthorn, hawthorn and elder, faster growing species like alder, willow and poplar to give some quick height, plus lots more – hazel, rowan, birch, holly, lime, spindle… Some of them were grown by More Trees BANES, a community tree nursery who collect all their seed locally in the Bath area, and others were from larger commercial suppliers.

At the top of the field we were essentially thickening up the existing but neglected hedge. Further down the hill the planting area widens out, and here we were creating a mini woodland. The vision is that once the trees are established, it could be possible to bring the cows into the woodland for short periods, using it as a ‘green barn’ to give them shelter from sun, rain or wind, and to supplement their diet with nutritious tree leaves. In fact the trees have so many potentially benefits it’s hard to list them all.

Of course we very much hope that as they grow the trees will support wildlife on the farm, by providing food, habitat, and connectivity between other woods and hedges. They will support soil health and reduce runoff. They will store carbon. Over time they could be selectively thinned or coppiced to provide woodchip or even firewood. And, last but not least, these trees will provide shelter to the orchard trees, slowing wind speeds across this otherwise very exposed field.

Many thanks to everyone who supported this event and made the planting possible – The Tree Council, Stroud Micro Dairy, Oakbrook Farm, Zero Dig, The Grove, and The Family Meal.

One day these trees will be taller than me…

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