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Published 17 Nov 2023

The Buy Land Plant Trees Diaries: a woodland on Raven Crag


It’s been a while since our last Buy Land Plant Trees update so we thought it was about time for a catch up!

In our last diary entry, we told you all about our planned peat bog restoration work at on the Crabtree Beck side of our Low Fell site. Well, you’ll be glad to know that our work on this is now complete! We filled the cuts in the terrain with wool, sourced from neighbouring farms which we then stuffed into coffee sacks, donated by Carvetti Coffee. This was to stop the flow of water down the valley and help the terrain become boggier. Although the final results will take years, it is the first step in preserving and restoring the peatlands on Low Fell.

You may also remember that on this side of Low Fell, we’ve been busy planting 100,000 trees over the course of the last couple of years. These went in as scrub under the Higher-level Stewardship scheme which was in place when we bought the land and this scrub is rapidly turning into trees which is great!

Front of Raven Crag, Low Fell

The last few months have been spent working towards the next phase of planting on the Raven Crag side of Low Fell. We have ambitious plans to put in another 300,000 trees on this side over the next two seasons. To help fund this, we applied for a woodland creation grant from The Forestry Commission to create woodland on 40 acres of the 160 acre site. It has been a long and complicated process spanning months which has included getting planning permission for the woodland. We are indebted to West Cumbria Rivers Trust who have helped us with the paperwork and somewhat baffling forms. However, it’s all been worth it in the end and we’re delighted to say that we have been awarded the funding!

This grant will pay for 35,000 trees but with donations from Chimney Sheep (thanks to all your purchases) and some generous donors, we will top this number up. We’re very excited as the first batch of trees arrived this week! We’ll be planting these and the rest of the 150,000 over the winter whilst they are dormant.

Dam and bracken, Low Fell

When we are planting these trees on Low Fell, we use the bracken as a guide. This tends to be where the woodland would have been years ago. The years of bracken growth in these areas means that the soil is lovely, rich, humusy soil. The bracken also helps to keep the saplings moist during the dry periods in the summer - yes, believe it or not we do get SOME dry weather up here in The Lakes!

Although planting within the bracken is fantastic for the reasons we’ve detailed above, the down-side is that when the bracken is tall it completely overshadows the young trees. When we tell people this and then tell them that we don’t use tubes or stakes to protect the saplings, we often get met with some rather surprised looks! There is, however, method in the seeming madness. We do this is because the tubes can sometimes slightly restrict the young trees’ access to light. Combine that with bracken overshadowing them, the saplings end up getting little to no light which often kills the tree. However, we’ve found that trees planted without tubes hang on tight, wait for the bracken to die back and then go through another growth spurt. They start growing earlier in the spring than the bracken, so they put on a good growth spurt then as well. Within a couple of years, the trees are taller than the bracken and will overshadowing it. This eventually causes the bracken to die back, giving way to the woodland plants that have been waiting for the woodland to come back. It’s really lovely to see.

Alder and birch trees growing in bracken on Low Fell

The other risk of planting young trees in bracken without tubes or stakes is that the bracken can squash the young trees when it dies back. However, we have also solved this problem! We strategically plant our trees in dense clusters of mixed species. By doing this, the saplings support each other against the fallen foliage and ensure it doesn’t crush them – essentially it’s strength in numbers! For the cost and effort of the tubes and stakes, we can plant five times as many trees. They grow more quickly and are actually happier growing closer together than when they are 2 metres apart from one another, as is the industry standard. We’re not growing straight specimens for harvest but growing haphazardly to try and recreate a natural woodland with mixed height trees and biodiversity. We’ve had great success of this in our 13-Acre Wood which you can read more about here.

The Forestry Commission grant will also help to pay for stock fencing to protect the woodland which will be a MASSIVE help. Our trees look very tempting and delicious to our neighbours’ sheep and last year, we spent a lot of time chasing them off the land. Although all the running around improved our cardiovascular health they did become a bit of a nuisance. As much as we love sheep, when trying to establish a woodland, they aren’t overly helpful. They don’t just nibble the tops off the trees; if the trees haven’t yet taken root they can pull out the whole thing and undo all of our hard work. So, as you can probably gather, having the site thoroughly sheep-proofed is essential. Fear not though, once the trees are well established, we will let stock back onto the land.

Birch trees growing above bracken

The great thing about our Low Fell site is that you can actually go and see it for yourself using the public footpaths. If you walk up to the Low Fell ridge and look to the west, towards the sea, you will see the planting we’ve already done on the Crabtree Beck side of the Fell. You can admire how quickly the trees are growing! If you look to the east, down the very steep hill towards Thackthwaite, you will see our heroic tree planters working away from November to March planting trees in all weather. Make sure you give us a wave if you see them! Here is a route if you fancy coming to have a look.

If you can’t make the journey, be sure to keep your eyes peeled on our social media channels and the Buy Land Plant Trees Facebook page are we’ll keep you updated with the progress we are making with the tree planting.

Finally, thank you, as always, for your continued support to Chimney Sheep and by association, Buy Land Plant Trees.

Without your purchases, we wouldn’t have been able to achieve what we have so far.

That’s all for now – we best go and get planting!

Until next time,


Sally Phillips

Inventor of Chimney Sheep

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