The article describes the work of Steve Watson who has pioneered and refined the techniques. Over 35 years, he has established hundreds of acres of woodland in Snowdonia, with the agreement of the landowners, and in the presence of sheep grazing.
These acres challenge the debate presenting an opposition between grazing and trees. As Steve points out, trees and woodlands evolved in the presence of herbivores, and a wooded landscape without herbivores is not natural. His techniques are taken directly from close observation of how trees naturally become established in the presence of browsing pressure. The potential for increasing tree cover in the uplands through No Fence Planting is huge.
Use of cover: Existing cover in the landscape, for example gorse, bramble, thorns and bracken, are used to provide cover for the new trees.
Again, trees at about 4 feet (1.2 metres) in height are planted on the edge of thickets or within bracken. It is not only the difficulty of access that protects the trees here; another factor is the way the trees are hidden from view by the cover vegetation.
Forked willows: This technique uses 9 foot (2.7 metre) willow cuttings – single cuttings are vulnerable to the wind and so forked cuttings are chosen to provide stability. The cuttings are pushed 4 foot into the ground, with the fork just below the ground surface and two 5 foot stems above ground.
Coetir Anian will use all these techniques to establish more tree cover.
Steve has also developed a new planting method in response to the challenges presented by Bwlch Corog. A large part of the site is covered in purple moor grass (Molinia caerulea) which creates a dense mat of vegetation difficult for trees to establish into; in addition, the topography of this area does not include much steep ground and there is very little cover. We will use willow cuttings as sticks pushed almost completely into the ground. Planting a large number in dense groups will in theory enable some to escape from browsing pressure. Additionally, as willow is the most favoured species for browsing by the horses, they will act as a decoy from other species of trees growing.
With the development of willow scrub in the purple moor grass, and the addition of downy birch, a very special type of habitat will be restored to the landscape. The National Vegetation Classification identifies this as ‘W4 Betula pubescens – Molinia caerulea woodland’.