Thistle wood was planted in 2013, and I acquired it a year later. It consists of a strip of former pasture land sitting at about 450ft above sea level on the south side of the Derwent Valley in County Durham, looking across towards the North Pennines and the rolling wooded hills of south Northumberland. There are 8 acres of trees, about 4500 of them in all: a mix of oak, wild cherry, silver birch, hazelnut, Scots pine and a alder. For the first two years, because of inadequate protection, the young trees were very heavily browsed by roe deer, and it has been a bit of a battle to keep them out ever since. I have added more tree protection and deer fencing and I am in the process of repairing and restoring a hedge along one side of the plantation.
One of the first jobs was to create a system of rides or tracks, not just to improve the access but also to create beautiful walks and to enhance the biodiversity of the plantation. Ride management is one of the most important aspects of woodland management – and south-facing rides, managed properly, provide rich and productive environments for insects and birds. I am planting mine up with fruit bushes and fruit and nut trees to provide a sort of sloping ramp of vegetation.
In winter 2017 I dug a pond and blocked up the old field drain that runs beneath it. Many invertebrates quickly colonised it, including damsel and dragonflies and fresh water molluscs. It has already proved a mecca for birds and mammals (a nursing doe included) and I keep an eye on it with a camera trap.
Slowly, more and more of the recovering saplings have reached head height and eventually the marvellous views across the valley will become obscure, the soil and habitat will take on characteristics of a wood, and the landscape will evolve into something magical and productive. The grass beneath the trees will slowly die back and woodland flowers will start to colonise.
All the damaged trees will eventually be coppiced, producing wood for fuel and for making useful things. In a few years we will be able to start making our own charcoal and I hope to be able to open the wood to the public a few times a year so that more people can enjoy it. Coppicing is an infinitely sustainable form of land use, a unique partnership between human and nature, providing endless useful products, diverse habitats and cycles of light and shade that many plants and animals are perfectly adapted to.
I have written two books about trees and woods. The first, the Wisdom of Trees, is now available in both hardback and paperback. I have just finished writing The Little Book of Planting Trees, which will be published by Head of Zeus in Spring 2019. Watch out for regular posts on progress in Thistle wood as the seasons change and the cycle of the woodsman’s work turns full circle.
The following is a list of some useful and interesting websites:
A fascinating discussion on the future of woods and forests in the UK is Tom Heap’s film for the BBC’s Costing the Earth programme: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08r1v9h
The most substantial owners and managers of woodlands in the UK are the Forestry Commission, the National Trust and National Trust for Scotland, the Woodland Trust and the many Wildlife Trusts. Their various websites, listed below, are invaluable sources of information, advice, places to visit and opportunities to volunteer. These are also listed on the Thistle wood web page, so that you can clink and link directly to them.
Other volunteering opportunities can be found by contacting the Trust for Conservation Volunteers (TCV): https://www.tcv.org.uk
For information and advice about setting up a community woodland scheme there is a network: https://www.communitywoodland.org, while advice on the available grants for woodland creation can be found at: Woodland grants: https://www.forestry.gov.uk/england-woodlandcreation
There is a network of small woodland owners: http://smallwoods.org.uk
Some notable tree nurseries and suppliers of hedging plants can be found through the following links:
There are many more to be found if you search the internet – and local is best.
If you want to ensure that your barbecue charcoal is sourced locally from sustainable woodland, there are many reputable suppliers: http://ncfed.org.uk/public/charcoal-suppliers
Information on the National Forest can be found here: http://www.nationalforest.org
If you are interested in getting involved with the Forest Schools movement, there is a website with more information: https://www.forestschoolassociation.org
The Tree Council has serval web pages worth consulting for planting advice, seed gathering events and much more: https://www.treecouncil.org.uk/Take-Part/Seed-Gathering-Season
For advice on grafting fruit trees, try: https://www.theorchardproject.org.uk/guides_and_advice/how-to-graft-fruit-trees
The Sylva Foundation campaigns to bring people and trees closer together: https://www.sylva.org.uk
For advice and ideas on building and maintaining a wildlife pond: