PLANTING TREES OUTSIDE WOODS – A Manual for Organisers, Landowners & Planters

TREES OUTSIDE WOODS

Trees outside woods – planted in hedgerows, as copses and clumps, in avenues, landscape trees studded along hedgerows, or planted along field edges, or to mark a field entrance, or a stretch of footpath or bridleway – bring depth and height to a community’s landscape.

Trees planted outside woods provide havens for a multitude of wildlife as well as acting as windbreaks that can help stop soil erosion. Native trees like oak, beech, chestnut, field maple, hawthorn, hazel and birch are natural records of the changing seasons, shedding leaves, producing fruit for birds, throwing shade, producing wood, drawing water from saturated ground, shaping the quiet, natural places that each of us cherish.

But our trees and the places they shape are under threat. Next time you are in a ‘typical’ rural landscape of rolling fields and mature trees look carefully and you may well notice two common themes of today’s countryside:

• One, the young standard trees that will one day replace the mature oaks, hornbeams, limes and horse chestnuts aren’t there; in the last fifty years farmers and landowners just haven’t planted the next generation of standard trees and intensive agriculture has prevented them from growing up naturally.

• Two, if you can see any hedgerows at all, they look old and/or knackered.

The landscape we love is fragile. What makes the situation even graver is that many of our mature trees are now dying of disease. Ash Dieback and Leaf Miner will kill millions of our old trees in the next ten years, as the Dutch Elm Beetle killed millions of beautiful elms in the 1970s.

The good news is that each of us can do something by planting a tree. Even better, we can join up with others in our community and plant lots of trees. Almost every village in the UK lacks young landscape trees and hedges. This goes for towns and cities as well. And every community possesses spaces – roadside verges, neglected bits of greens and parks, footpaths, bridleways, the untidy corner of a field, a piece of scrubland – where trees might be planted and enjoyed. Planted carefully and with the support of the community, trees improve our environment. The moment a tree is in the ground, good things happen. A row of planted trees signals that a place is inhabited by people who cherish it and who are invested in its future.

This Manual was originally written to support community tree planting in the Vale of Pewsey. At the time, the local landowners showed no interest in restoring the landscape by planting trees or hedges. With no reason to believe that anyone else was going to take any action, the author decided to take matters into his own hands.

Planting trees and hedges isn’t easy – that’s why this Manual has been written. Doing it properly requires preparation, planning and training. But when it happens, communities great deal out of the experience of planting, and the dividend of watching hedges and trees they planted grow and flourish is tremendously rewarding.

GETTING STARTED

Let’s presume your landscape has suffered tree and hedging loss and needs filling in. There is a dearth of young or middle-aged landscape trees, meaning that the landscape is dying.

You want to do something about it by planting trees (on their own, in clumps and in lines) and hedges in order to restore the local landscape, and as a result provide corridors and other resources for local wildlife and negate the threat from seasonal flooding. The advantage of planting to restore landscape and wildlife corridors is that it requires relatively few trees, stakes and guards to make a positive impact on a bare landscape; this should help you motivate members of the local community to turn-out and help to plant.

Let’s also presume that the planting is carried out by members of a community planting on someone else’s land.

THE FOUR ELEMENTS OF COMMUNITY PLANTING

You need four ingredients to make this:

(a) A community organiser(s)
(b) A willing landowner
(c) Volunteer planters
(d) Funding to buy the trees, stakes and guards

(a) A community organiser(s)

This individual should be – in no particular order – a reasonably good organiser, energetic, well-plugged into their community and enjoy the challenge of rallying volunteers and delivering a plan. Their relationship with the landowner will be critically important.

S/he also needs to be comfortable taking responsibility for quality control, ensuring that volunteers receive the necessary training and turn up with appropriate equipment. The importance of training and quality control should not be under-estimated – poorly planted trees will die, usually from a lack of water.

Remember that if trees are going to be planted then someone needs to be in charge and have a clear sense of what is being planted where and when. Accept that everything will move more slowly than you’d previously hoped. Remember that people are giving up their precious weekends to help so try to strike the right balance between creating a mood of purpose, and an atmosphere of fun that celebrates coming together as a community.

(b) A willing landowner

Before anything else happens, a local landowner must give his or her blessing to trees and hedges being planted on their land. They will do so because they (i) trust the community group will plant trees and hedges to a high standard, (ii) they recognise that supporting the initiative will generate long-lasting environmental benefits – such as a reduction in soil erosion, to their land, (iii) bring them in-line with DEFRA’s emerging Environmental Land Management scheme , and (iv) help strengthen their relationships with their neighbours and local community.

The landowner should also be attracted by the opportunity to have trees and hedges planted on his/her land at no cost to themselves.

(c) Volunteers

Community volunteers should be able to commit at least three hours of their time to a Planting Day.

If they are planting, they need to be reasonably fit, prepared to work in the wind and rain and be able to bring their own spade. Those unable to plant can still be very useful – for example by helping to prepare the planting area beforehand, or inserting stakes by each tree, putting on plastic guards or pitching up with tea / coffee / water / hot soup / picnic lunch / moral support on the day. NB: don’t forget lots of water as planting trees is really thirsty work. It would also be useful to have someone responsible for taking photos of the group at work, and to record progress.

Try and create a planting ‘narrative’ that is attractive to both landowners and planters in your area: for example, the opportunity to plant landscape tree and hedges along bridleways and footpaths, and thus celebrate and define these much-loved rights of way. Many bridleways and footpaths Vale run across large fields, and along bare fences. By marking them with trees and hedges these rights of way come alive and feel like the meaningful connections between different communities which we all want them to be. They also make the rights of way easier to follow and help to ensure that users stick to the path and don’t stray.

(iv) Funding to buy the trees, stakes and guards

If you can, try and source trees, stakes and guards for free. The Woodland Trust is brilliant and worth approaching for help . The Government is now encouraging people to plant trees, and recently launched a fund to support tree planting in urban and peri-urban environments .

The alternative is that the amount required to buy the required number of trees, stakes and guards is raised by the community. The advantage of this approach is that it increases the community’s sense of ownership and may also raise the quality of planting as volunteers take care to preserve what they have helped pay for.

You can buy trees, stakes and guards from specialist nurseries up and down the UK. If you are purchasing trees yourself, make sure you buy bare root ‘whips’ – this term is used in forestry to describe unbranched tree seedlings of approximately 0.5-1.0m (1ft 7in – 3ft 3in) in height and 2-3 years old that have been specially grown for planting out. Whips are more likely to survive than bigger trees, and less vulnerably to disease.

Standard spiral guards are made of recycled PVC and are not biodegradable. They tend to go brittle and break down after 4 years. They protect the whips from rabbit and deer browsing. If you don’t have rabbits or deer, then you could consider not using plastic guards. However, the advantage of using guards is that they help to define the planting line and thus deter people from causing damage by walking or even mowing over them.

If you do use guards, plan to remove them after 4 to 5 years, by which time the trees will be established.

THE THREE STAGES OF PLANTING

Preparation

Agree a planting plan with the landowner
Make sure that the landowner is clear about where you are planting and is happy. Ideally, s/he will help with planting – this removes any danger of misunderstanding.

Try and identify a planting line which follows level ground and avoids obstacles like grass clumps. Even when you think you have agreed a planting plan, things can go wrong. For example, following fence lines with hedge planting is straightforward, but there is a danger that planting may constrict rights of way. In this instance, it may be necessary to consult with landowners on a more appropriate line, which could encroach on cultivated or set-aside land. The landowner will hopefully understand these issues and be generous with space, but s/e may also have to plan ahead and ensure that the proposed line is incorporated into the farm/estate’s cultivation and conservation plan. Ideally “walk the course” with the landowner and mark the agreed planting area.

Communicate your plans to your local community
It’s a good idea to give local people notice of your plans by advertising the planting plan and inviting people to participate. You might want to advertise a training day, or a meeting for people to come and ask questions. You’ll be the best judge of what’s appropriate in your community.

There may be one or two individuals in the community who oppose the idea of tree and hedge planting, especially if you are planting along footpaths and bridleways. If you are planting native trees with the permission of the landowner and in places that do not contravene, for example, the 1980 Highways Act (which controls where trees may be planted in proximity with public highways) then no one can stop you planting. However, you are in the business of building community, not weakening it. Therefore, try to avoid any difficulty by (i) communicating your plans widely and in good time and (ii) creating an opportunity for those with reasonable concerns to raise them with you. Occasionally individuals are simply motivated by malice or unhappiness – as soon as this is clear, politely ignore them.

Organise Planting Weekends
Identify weekends between late November and early March when your volunteers can commit to give at least one Morning (09.30-12.30) or Afternoon (13.30 – 16.30) of their time. Establish the most popular dates as Planting Weekends and ask volunteers to put them in their diaries and promise to turn up for at least one Morning or Afternoon. Try to ensure that you have a minimum of 6 people for each morning and afternoon session. Work on the basis that 6 people can plant 100m of hedging in 3 hours.

Try and use the planting as an excuse for a community knees-up: get all your volunteers together in a pub, village hall or someone’s house one night, ideally the Friday or Saturday night of a Planting Weekend to celebrate what they are doing and spend time together. Building community and celebrating your shared connection to a place, and your desire to enhance your shared landscape, is fundamental to what you are doing.
Delivery & Storage
You’ll need to organise delivery of your tree whips, stakes and guards. The whips will probably arrive in bunches of 25, bound with string just above the roots, and contained in heavy duty plastic sacks.

These sacks won’t be airtight, but they will help keep the whips cool and – most importantly – damp. You must prevent the roots of the whips from drying out before they are planted. Bear this in mind at all times. You should aim to plant your new whips within 2 weeks of them arriving.

Store them in a barn or outhouse, or in a shaded spot outside. The landowner is the obvious person to store everything. If you are worried about the whips drying out pour some water into the sacks but not too much or you will drown them – you don’t want to wash the mud off the roots. If you are storing them for more than two weeks then you should think about heeling them in (this involves digging a crude hole in loose earth – e.g. a flower bed or field verge, placing the whips into the hole root-first, then covering the bottom half of the whips with earth).

Ground Preparation
Marking a planting line and preparing it – for example by mowing or strimming areas which are overgrown and clearing out tough grass clumps will save you time on planting days.

Training
Try and ensure that everyone who is planting gets basic training. Tree planting isn’t difficult bit it is more complicated than it looks. Many of your volunteers won’t have planted trees before. Planting takes energy, so make sure your volunteers aren’t wasting theirs by planting trees in such a way that they will struggle to grow. Organise a training session before the planting day or make time for training at the beginning of the planting session. Appoint a competent planter as your trainer and get them to ask new arrivals if they have planted before. Training takes less than 5 minutes, but it will help create healthy trees for decades.

Here are some useful training tips for planting tree whips:

• To plant a whip successfully you should make a deep incision or slit with your spade; don’t try and dig a hole.
• Push the whip in deep – for example, no yellow should show on a hawthorn root, no root on a hazel.
• You must seal the earth snug around the whip after you have planted so that they are tight in the ground – if they are not tight, they will dry out.
• Push the bamboo stake in good and deep, push the narrow end in first.
• Ensure that spiral guards are put on with the widest end at the top; this will ensure that if the area around the trees is ever sprayed with weed killer then the run-off will not leak through the guard and contaminate the whip.

Planting Weekends

The organiser should try and be on-site before everyone else.

Have the trainer ready to welcome volunteers and provide advice.

Encourage volunteers to plant in teams of six, with four people planting whips, one person pushing in stakes and one person putting on spiral guards. Ideally the team of six keeps a relatively compact shape to allow chatting, joking, banter and general bonhomie.

During Planting Days, a key priority is looking after the whips. Everyone must take care to keep the roots of the whips moist and ideally covered in earth. During planting the whips should be kept in their sack until taken out to plant. Keep the open end of the sack out of the wind – if you let the wind blow into the sacks it will dry out their roots very quickly.

As people get into a rhythm the groups of six will find themselves making progress.

Pick up all the plastic discard as you make progress and store it in an empty whip sack.

More than anything, try and make these Planting Days fun. They are great opportunities for a laugh and a bit of exercise.

Maintenance

After you’ve finished planting, try and make time for tree and hedge maintenance: if possible, have someone spray the newly planted ground with weed-killer to prevent nettles and other weeds from growing up around the trees and monopolising what water is available. This is particularly important in the first year or two, when the young trees will need all the water they can get.

Another threat is goose grass which grows up during spring and early summer and can swamp young trees and even pull them over.

As trees become obscured by tall grass and weeds there is also a risk that passing traffic (vehicle and foot) trample them.

Organisers should encourage volunteer planters and others in the community to keep an eye on the young trees and be ready to (i) kick back nettles and other weeds (ii) re-stand collapsed trees (iii) remove goose grass, etc.

By year three / four / five the hedges should be getting some height and may benefit from some light pruning in the spring to create a level top to the emerging hedge-line and encourage the main body of the trees to thicken out.

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