When Tree Planting Sucks

On the radio yesterday I was gratified to hear Oliver Rackham talk about the dangers of the globalization of the tree business, as I blogged about nearly a month ago. It was also interesting to hear him talk about some other less than positive aspects of the recent fashion in the UK for tree planting, which has meant we now have as many trees as there were in the Middle Ages. Isn't this a good thing? Well - er - not necessarily, as I've increasingly thought too.

1. There is always a tremendous hurry and lack of adequate cash about grant aided planting which means trees are often imported, increasing the danger of spreading pathogens and parasites and reducing the genetic variation of the plant population.

2. Inappropriate tree species are routinely introduced. There's a "one size fits all" mentality about native tree selection, which seems very odd. In the world of wildflower plants, which shares many of the same problems, we always try to supply seed mixes appropriate to the sites where they will be sown, for example.

3. The groups of trees which are planted do not constitute woods. In particular, no-one bothers to establish an understory, which means they have less value for biodiversity than they should do.  Demand for woodland bulbs is amazingly small and their purchase is never covered by woodland planting grants, for example.

4. This issue is compounded by planting densities being too high, which blocks out any light reaching the plants on the ground.

5. We sometimes establish these plantations, with limited ecological value, where more interesting habitat previously existed.

I'm not an expert, but it seems to me that the Ash tree crisis throws up an opportunity to discuss some of these issues. I'm sure tree planting IS a good thing, but we need to review how we're doing it.

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  • Very good points, though one I have noticed on some Woodland creations (both about 3 acres, farm woodlands) is that the whole creating of the woodland for the land owner is veiling in the notion of ticking the boxes for the grants, helping wildlife etc....

    But the calculations and planting density is decided on how much ££ can be gained from it, ranging from aiming for firewood production - to planting Birch trees (80%) and ash as standards.... with the aim of chipping the lot in 10years for the farm boiler.......

    Until we separate forestry from woodland creation and have them as either seperate concepts entirely, or regulate the "multi use" /role side of woodlands.... these problems will occur.

  • I'd just like to say the sight of trees planted in rows in plantations is just about as soulless as it gets, hardly any plant life or wildlife and not a particularly pleasing sight so unnatural. From a landscape gardeners point of view surely we can do a bit better than this.
  • Good comments - thank you. David's point about "multi use" is interesting, and I guess will become increasingly problemmatic rather than less.

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