Well, Beltane has arrived, spring is slowly gathering pace here on the farm and lambing season is in full swing. Whilst for our shepherds spring is characterised by sleep deprivation, the emergence of new lives and sheer hard work, for the woodsmen it signals the end of our main working season. Our new trees have been planted, our tree nursery has been established and, where necessary, our hedgerows & trees have been cut/felled. Summer is the time (this year at least!) when I can turn my mind to other things. Well, when I say that, we still have ongoing tree aftercare to carry out, nursery beds to tend, firewood to process and equipment to service, but still…!
It does allow me, however, to write a short blog about woodland creation. This winter we planted 4,500 trees into a new 4.5 acre woodland. This is sited on a former arable field, perhaps the poorest we have on the entire farm. So rather than continue to push our livestock through it on their grazing rotation, we decided that the best option was to convert it into woodland.
Now the idea of turning empty fields back into woodland is anathema to most farmers. But under a holistic management system, the woodland will play a vital function in the future vitality and resilience of the farm. It will provide firewood that will heat our farmhouse, fence-posts for our fields and stakes for our hedges (the woodland will form part of a wider farm-scale coppice rotation). It will provide sheltered foraging for our pigs, wildlife will flourish under its canopy and, where even livestock struggle to do so, it will build and restore topsoil (whilst sequestering carbon).
So for us it was a no-brainer. But we wondered if our new woodland could do even more… (of course it could!). By borrowing principles from Ben Law’s The Woodland Way, we are planning to plant avenues of fruit trees to demarcate woodland compartments and provide an annual fruit crop. We have left a large central glade and created wide rides that will hopefully provide habitat for butterflies. We will establish a firepit in the heart of the woodland that can be used for educational purposes and seasonal celebrations. We will also, over time, use our livestock to help restore ancient woodland ground flora to this denuded landscape.
So like most things at Village Farm, much of our woodland work (particularly woodland creation) follows broad permaculture principles. That is we stop, think and consider before we put a spade in the ground. This allows us to design our new woodlands in such a way that they provide multiple benefits whilst remaining resilient to the many climatic challenges that they will undoubtedly face.