Wood and Glade
The creation of a wood on arable land with a crop of barley feels like a tall order. There is such an overwhelming plethora of information and instruction on how this should be done, much of which has the clang of dogma, and little of which can be treated as universally applicable. The requirements are likely to differ according to the aim of planting: timber production or amenity, production and amenity, or production, amenity and biodiversity, or any combination thereof.
Winnowing the wheat from the chaff is our first task.
Planting of a random mixture of all the available species is not the route to follow. The starting point for a native woodland is obviously the choice of species, but it is just as vital to success to match the species to the specific conditions and their variations on the site. British natives include the primary species that will grow into tall forest trees, such as oak, beech and lime (which have traditionally been grown for timber production) and in natural woodland, they form a high and dense, leafy canopy.
Wild cherries, crab apples, sloes and thorns are much smaller trees, and where woodland occurred naturally, these secondary trees inhabit the margins and glades where more light is available, thus helping to form a softly graduated edge. In much of Yorkshire, at the fringes of woods, these are the trees that form that wonderful, billowing petticoat of white blossom that marks the spring and early summer. Since they also provide nectar and pollen for a range of beneficial insects, and fruits for birds and small mammals in autumn, they’re particularly important in terms of increasing biodiversity.
Beside and amongst them is a low growing shrub layer, including dogwood, spindle and guelder rose, with similar wildlife value, that need higher light levels still. They once were the species that played a huge role in the glorious ancient hedgerows the loss of which has had devastating effects on the wildlife that depended on them for food and shelter.
At Three Hagges Wood, one of the primary decisions made was to develop a planting pattern that would allow the development of a naturalistic, layered woodland structure that will create a mosaic of niches for a range of wildlife. With primary trees as the central matrix, the layers of secondary trees and shrubs will form softly graduated edges to the rides and glades, with blossom and fruit in season, where we will all be able to walk and enjoy.
And there will be open areas between the woodland stands. This will form what is known as a field layer, the grasses and perennials that will, in time, provide a home for small mammals, such as the field vole and pygmy shrew. It will be a food source for the larvae of moths and butterflies, and yield nectar for the adults.
Fine words do not a meadow or woodland make though. Achieving our aims will take time and patient management, at every step, from harvesting the barley onwards.