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Published 31 Jan 2024

The Buy Land Plant Trees Diaries: season 3 of planting at Low Fell

Hi everyone,

We thought it was time to update you on everything Buy Land Plant Trees. We’re into our third season of planting at Low Fell and it’s been busier than ever! 

Planting Trees on Low Fell

When we put the first trees in two years ago, it was a bit experimental. There were no trees for miles around. The soil on Low Fell is poor and it gets extremely windy up there. There was a Higher Level Stewardship scheme in place which meant Natural England permitted scrub to grow at the site. We got on and planted 120,000 trees over two seasons. The thinking was that the terrain was so challenging that whatever we planted would remain scrub for a good long while.

We then put in an application for a Woodland Creation grant, which took a full year to process. Part of this application was to get planning permission for woodland (you’re not allowed to just go ahead and plant trees anywhere you like, it might spoil the view). We were granted permission for woodland and a good job too, because the scrub is turning into trees already! There are trees taller than me. It’s very gratifying.  We plant without tubes or stakes, for various reasons so if you want to know more about it I explain it here on our Buy Land Plant Trees website.

Raptor Perch on Low Fell

We’ve got a problem with field voles. They chew around the circumference of the sapling, ring-barking it and thereby killing it. They don’t even eat the rest of the tree. It’s very wasteful. Birds of prey eat voles but there is nowhere for them to perch, so this is a restriction on some species hunting there. We lugged a scaffolding pole and accessories up, rigged up a raptor perch…and within a fortnight a short-eared owl was seen hunting up there. Guess what short-eared owls eat? Of course, it might have been a coincidence but we like to think it was a consequence of all that hard work. The field voles are a perennial problem so obviously the short-eared owl on its own isn’t going to deal with the vole problem. However, by encouraging a variety of birds of prey up there, we can help to reduce the impact of the voles destruction!

Tree planting team on Low Fell

Anyway, talking of hard work, credit goes to our planters who go out in rain, sleet, snow, ice, ferocious wind – every type of weather the Cumbrian winter can throw at them. They’re putting in another 130,000 trees this year. This means that we will have planted over a quarter of a million trees since we set up Buy Land Plant Trees! Massive thanks to our very generous donors who have helped this to happen. The Woodland Creation grant paid for new fences and quite a lot of trees but because we plant far greater numbers of trees, without tubes and stakes, we’ve had to find the additional trees and funds to have them planted. We did ask for the money we would have received for tubes and stakes and controlling bracken, which would have covered those costs nicely, but we were told no.

Sapling on Low Fell

Our method is being monitored by several interested parties though, so if we can show that it works (and it has so far in several locations over several years!) then things might change in the future. Basically, where bracken grows the land is useless for farmers, and it indicates where woodland would have grown, in years gone by. Bracken management usually involves heavy machinery over two years or herbicides, neither of which are an option for us at Low Fell. Once the trees get above the height of the bracken, they start to smother it, and the trees win the battle for light and nutrients. By planting the trees closer together than traditional tree-planting, the clusters protect each other but also compete with each other so they grow more quickly. And the soil under the bracken is lovely humus so they should get going nicely.

As I’ve said before, there are public footpaths all over Low Fell so you can come and see for yourselves how things are coming on. And follow us on Facebook for updates, we try to share more photos and things on there. If you are a customer of Chimney Sheep then you have helped this to happen so a massive THANK YOU!

Until next time, 

Sally Phillips

Inventor of Chimney Sheep

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