18 Jul 2021

Tree Planting

Those users of our woods who are particularly observant may have noticed that a fair few tree guards and stakes have appeared in areas which the society, with the very generous help of volunteers, have been clearing of non-native invasive species such as Cherry Laurel and Rhododendron. Some may ask what is going on here, and why are we planting trees in a wood?! Both are good questions.

Whilst Rhododendron and Cherry Laurel may look nice in a garden, if permitted to escape into an ecosystem (such as Wealden ghyll woodland, in our case) nature cannot compete against these human-introduced plants which then quickly overwhelm native species, causing great harm to (and eventually destroying!) woodland if left unchecked.

Having cleared these areas of non-native invasives, nature can sometimes do with a helping hand. The act of tree planting isn’t always helpful, affordable or even necessary in many contexts as the process of natural regeneration does a far better job, with better results, and is often more appropriate; i.e. native species are simply allowed to seed and repopulate cleared areas in their own time (as can be seen occuring around our stand of aspen west of the pond). However, in order for this process to be fully effective, the regeneration needs to come from a diverse, healthy ecosystem which is already in tip-top condition, and unfortunately Darch’s Wood is not there yet.

If we were to utilise only the process of natural regeneration, the wood would unfortunately repopulate itself with non-native, species-poor 'Secondary' woodland, with trees such as sycamore, horse chestnut, larch and sweet chestnut predominant. Whilst beautiful, popular and in some cases historically important trees, they also prevent the wood from regenerating to its apex ‘Tertiary’ state, i.e. once again reaching the natural composition of species as should be found in a Wealden ghyll.

This is where the tree guards and stakes come in. In a wonderful display of generosity, The Conservation Volunteers donated one hundred bare-root seedlings to the Cross-in-Hand Amenities Society to help with restoring Darch’s Wood. Within the mix were species such as:

  • Field maple

  • Hazel

  • Aspen

  • Hawthorn

  • Dogwood

  • Downy birch

  • Goat willow

  • Aspen

  • Bird cherry

The hawthorn and dogwood are ‘woodland-edge’ species. These were planted on to replace screening on the woodland edge where some invasives had been removed. We are already most fortunate in having a large stand of aspen within the wood, so the donated aspen was used to spread this species to new areas. The remaining species were planted randomly throughout the cleared areas. Despite the dry spring experienced in 2021, the saplings seem to have done incredibly well, with a survival rate thus far of approximately 95%. The future of Darch's Wood's biodiversity (and therefore resilience in the face of climate change) has therefore taken a very positive step forward.

One last valid question is 'why must we use plastic tree guards when plastic pollution is such a huge environmental issue?'. The brief answer is that we have, at least with current technology, no real choice. Darch’s Wood, and the countryside in general, is suffering from both an overabundance of deer and the effect of non-native grey squirrels, both of which decimate saplings via browsing and bark stripping. If left unchecked almost all of the saplings would be predated to the point where they never reach maturity, and so tree guards must be used and gathered in for re-use or disposal once the saplings mature. 

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