The Importance of Woodland and Hedgerows on your Estate
"Everyone can plant trees, of course, and this is something that I would thoroughly encourage regardless of the size of your plot of land."
When we think of Oxfordshire I’m sure we all have visions of woodlands, meadows and green pastures, but – perhaps surprisingly to some – Oxfordshire has amongst the lowest percentage of woodland coverage in England.
The woodland coverage in the south of England is an average of 13%, which is almost double that of the 7% we have here in Oxfordshire, where 95% of the trees in the county (woodland, hedgerow and non-woodland) are privately owned and managed.
Following the publication of the government’s 25 Year Environment Plan in January 2018, we have been speaking to James Gillies about the importance of creating and managing woodlands and hedgerows. As well as running his own consultancy and land management businesses, James is a Countryside Steward, Woodland Trust consultant and a member of the British Institute of Agricultural Consultants (MBIAC). He has over 20 years’ practical experience in conservation and land management.
The 25 Year Environment Plan has some really great ideas that you may have seen on the news and in the press, from the new Northern Forest and planting over 180,000 ha of new woodlands by 2060, to creating accessible natural spaces in urban areas to promote health and wellbeing. I suggest everyone reads the plan. The document includes ideas with real merit but without engagement from the general public, as these are only proposals and not legally-binding targets, they will stay as just that – ideas.
Everyone can plant trees, of course, and this is something that I would thoroughly encourage regardless of the size of your plot of land. From schools and urban spaces to gardens and farms there is always a need for more wildlife habitats and planting trees is a fantastic way to encourage them. A single oak tree is home to over 100 species of insects, mammals and birds.
There are lots of ways that people can get involved with planting and encouraging natural habitats and there are many avenues of grant funding currently available to assist in the creation and management of woodlands and hedgerows. Land owners need not be discouraged by the financial implications of the initial investment and purchasing the different species of shrubs and trees.
Before you begin planting however we would suggest seeking advice from a local land manager. They will advise you of the best type of trees for the space, soil and habitat you are trying to create. For example, I myself would suggest planting native fruit or nut species to create food sources for wildlife in urban environments and on smaller plots of land in farms.
The UK only has 13% woodland coverage in comparison to the average of 37% coverage for other countries across Europe. I am currently working in partnership with The Woodland Trust to help increase the levels of medium and large scale woodlands across the Cotswolds and Oxfordshire. These types of larger scale projects require a minimum 1.25 acres of land to plant effectively. There is funding available for between 50% and 100% of the costs of planting new woodlands depending on the types of trees you have and land available. I have a breakdown of funding available for woodlands on my website.
Not to forget hedgerows – in the UK, there are currently about 450,000 km left. Of this, about 190,000 km is thought to be ancient or species-rich. Since the rise of fast-to-install wire and wood fencing, the expansion of field sizes to accommodate industrial farming and development of the land, natural hedgerow planting is in decline. It may seem that hedgerows are just the barrier that keeps livestock in the right place, but this is not the case – these are fantastic ecosystems in their own right.
With correct management and annual maintenance, you can create a fantastic wildlife habitat for insects, small mammals, birds and wildflowers. There are several ways of managing hedgerows, from coppicing overgrown trees to the traditional art of hedge-laying. Hedgelaying styles vary regionally and are not only environmentally beneficial, but also aesthetically pleasing. For people wanting to create 100+ meters of natural hedgerows, there is up to 60% funding available to plant a mixture of blackthorn, crab apple, dogwood, dog rose, elder, field maple, and hawthorn trees.
I am really looking forward to seeing the new woodlands and hedgerows springing up around our beautiful county over the coming decades, and I assure everyone thinking of creating their own wildlife habitat it is really great for the soul, not to mention the environment.
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