Sabre Planting with the Tree Shepherd
Back to the trees…. It was a cold, windy day last June when I spent an inspirational day touring Snowdonia, where Steve showed me a selection of his tree planting sites. I imagined that we would be going out to see the occasional tree struggling to grow on inaccessible crags. The reality is very different and quite awe-inspiring. Steve showed me vast areas of hillsides covered in young native woodland, aged up to about 30 years old. We visited half a dozen sites like this, and I was told that there are many more: it would take several days to visit them all. It is a remarkable achievement by any measure, and more so as these woodlands were all established in the presence of continued sheep grazing on the land.
A similar strategy, known as ‘protective clover planting’, is to plant the trees in the edge of gorse bushes, or in other vegetation such as bracken or bramble, or even Japanese knotweed. As the trees grow, they shade out most of the gorse or bracken, creating extra pasture as well as shelter for the animals. The trick is in observing what is in the landscape and making use of the features, keeping in mind how livestock behaves and how the trees will grow.
The different methods can be used in combination on sites. No fence planting is very simple as a concept, but in the field there are many, often subtle, differences between sites, making each unique. The practice has many elements which must be taken into account together for best success.
As well as improving the landscape and helping wildlife, the methods provide many benefits to farmers: the trees provide shelter from the elements to livestock; there is no loss of grazing land at any time during the establishment of the trees; no change in land-use, with the areas remaining agricultural rather than becoming forestry; gorse and bracken are diminished as the trees develop a canopy, allowing more grass to grow between and under the trees; wood pasture is created.