Fifty Million Trees

The Woodland Trust have made the ambitious pledge to plant fifty million new trees in the next five years. By taking in carbon dioxide and changing it into oxygen and carbohydrate, trees take carbon out of the atmosphere and lock it up into wood. A single tree has so many leaves busy doing this that they are an extremely important part of our attempt to hold back climate change. The average woodland cover in the EU is 37% but in the UK it is currently only 13%, and that needs to increase to an estimated 19% if we are to meet our carbon neutral target by 2050.

Since coming to the meadows, we have added around 850 trees although 600 of these are part of a new hedgerow rather than to be grown as trees. Five years ago we planted 200 mixed native trees as a linear wood along the cliff edge and these trees are mostly doing very well indeed and are now loaded with fruit at this time of year.

These trees were planted as small bare root saplings five years ago and are now thriving

But on the other hand, the six expensive large English Oaks with established root balls that we planted in 2018 to mark a big birthday have struggled right from the start. Three of them are now completely dead and the remaining three are only just about hanging on in there.

Dead or very sickly English Oaks

Our soil is probably too light and dry for English Oaks to flourish and we need to give more thought as to what type of tree is used. We have also learned the hard way that planting small trees works best, where less is required of the root systems while they get established.

Our native trees have coevolved alongside many species of insect that have adapted to use these trees at some point in their life cycle. An example is the native Scots Pine that is associated with ninety-one insect species whereas, for the non-native Larch, this number is just seventeen. Holm Oaks are not native but do well in our soils and exposed coastal conditions and we already have several lovely, mature Holm Oaks here. They are not as valuable to wildlife as British native oaks but their catkins and acorns are definitely well used and their dense, evergreen canopy offers year round shelter to birds. They also capture carbon just the same as native trees – or, I speculate, perhaps even better since they are evergreen and will be doing so all year round?

An evergreen Holm Oak between the first and second meadows

A small Holm Oak was found growing in a bag of top soil that was leftover from making the raised beds in the allotment. An acorn was probably buried by a Jay who did not then return to eat it. I potted the little tree up last October and it has grown well over the summer. The plan is to now replant it properly into the meadows this autumn.

Britain has only three native coniferous trees; Scots Pine and Yew, both of which we have already planted here, and Juniper. On paper, Juniper sounds like it might do well in this chalk downland location although I have to say that we have never seen any growing in this area. It supports over fifty insect species and its berries and shoots provide food for birds and mammals. We decided to give it a go and ordered four little trees from the Woodland Trust shop…

..and planted them up. They had a heavy mulch of woodchippings as well since they are 300m from the nearest tap and keeping them well watered next summer will be challenging:

We also ordered and planted four Whitebeam from the Woodland Trust. So that is eight trees ticked off towards their fifty million target.

The autumn migration continues and I have noticed a big increase in the number of Blackbirds around the place:

The two birds on the left with their black beaks could be continental blackbirds, newly arrived to spend the winter in this country from the colder parts of Europe, although our resident first year males do also have black beaks.

This time last year the Bird Ringer caught a continental blackbird. The brown primary wing feathers at the leading edge of the wing tell us that, as well as being continental, this is also a first year bird.

November 2020
Another first year male with brown primary wing feathers that was on the cameras this week – not sure if this one is a continental bird or not

Grey Heron have put in a few appearances this week but I am still thinking that these are birds in transit, migrating into the country from the parts of Europe where their feeding grounds will be frozen for most of the winter:

It is not yet time to bring Mackenzie, our secret weapon, out from the shed where he has been holidaying all summer. Over the last two winters, our scarecrow has had a 100% success rate in deterring heron from the pond, saving our populations of frogs and newts.

Mackenzie on duty last winter as the frogs started to gather in the pond prior to spawning.

We don’t want to bring Mackenzie out too early such that he loses his shock factor and the herons have got used to him by frog spawning time.

As a child growing up in suburban Maidenhead, I always wished we lived somewhere more rural so that there were owls calling around the house at night. Well, it has taken many decades to achieve, but the gentle hooting of a male Tawny in the meadows has been heard on several evenings this week and he was even kind enough to appear on one of our trail cameras:

A fortnight ago I was wondering how long our male Herring Gull would be going around with his offspring to show it the ropes. Well, it seems that the young bird has now been asked to plough its own furrow and the adult male is arriving each morning on his own:

Some other birds on the cameras this week:

Female Kestrel
Male Sparrowhawk
Jays are very much in evidence at this time of year as they work to strip the Holm Oaks of acorns

What an immense yawn and what a fine set of teeth:

A bit of bickering at peanut time:

I really like the next two photos of the One-eyed Vixen. Here she pops up from a hole under the fence and glances left at the camera:

At the highest point of the meadows, she pauses contemplatively and looks out to sea:

Once this spell of stormy weather is over, I need to wade back into the pond and do some more clearing. All the reeds that I have pulled out so far have now gone off underground as winter bedding. It is helpful for us to see where it is being taken so that we know which of the numerous cliff-side burrows are currently being used:

In the wood this week:

Male Sparrowhawk
Great Spotted Woodpecker
Squirrel and sweet chestnut
Squirrel and hazelnut

Dawn this morning and a brisk wind keeps the Union Jack dancing. Strong winds and heavy rain are forecast to arrive within the hour but for now it is a beautiful start to a desperately important day that will see the leaders of the world meet in Glasgow, five hundred miles north of here, to discuss the future of our planet. The whole world watches on and holds its breath – we all need this to go well and planting fifty million trees is simply not enough.

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