Creating a new woodland … for the first time!

April 26, 2021

Planting trees is one of the best things you can do to fight climate change. They sequent carbon, provide a superb habitat for a variety of different flora and fauna, and will become amazing breathing spaces we can all enjoy.

And if you’re lucky to be part of a large planting project, it’s a great feeling knowing you’re creating something special!

Here, Lily Whittle talks about her and Leonie Dale’s experience at planting a new woodland at Collingholme…

Having never planted a single tree between us, the offer to plant 1600 trees was daunting to say the least! First seeing the large, empty plot of land at 8.30am on a cold, cloudy Monday morning only drove home the task ahead of us. We never thought we could actually get it all done but knew we would give it a go.

The both of us had had our years put on hold slightly. The pandemic had scuppered our A-levels and left us both choosing gap years, but if this year had taught us anything it was to take up all opportunities we could! We did not really know what we were letting ourselves in for but five weeks later we are so glad we took up the offer. Not only was it a chance to get out of the house and be out in the fresh air all day long, but we showed ourselves that we could do anything we put our minds to.

Quickly we learnt we were actually quite good at planting trees. Our 100 trees a day target was exceeded day after day and at our peak we planted 175 trees in a day! Seeing our little forest grow was extremely rewarding and gave us more and more gumption to see it through! At first, we muddled our way through our tree planting method, we tried stake, dig, plant in one. Then we moved on to staking out everything before digging and planting, and then we settled on staking all, digging all and then planting.

At first the snow and frozen ground slowed us down, with everybody that passed by saying “Are you not cold?”, as the snow drove into our faces. But soon Spring arrived, the days got longer and warmer and we were spurred on to keep going. Our days were filled with Ken Bruce’s Pop Master playing out of our tinny phone speakers and discussion about the wildlife that surrounded us (one Deer, a daily sighting of a Little Egret, a Buzzard and five Long Tailed Tits- to name a few) and before we knew it, we were done.

Both being environmentally conscious people the reward of planting trees was immense. Knowing we were creating a new habitat for the wildlife, but also creating a carbon sink was another motivator that kept us going.

However, we could not ignore the fact that we were also using huge amounts of polluting plastic in the form of tree guards. We quickly learnt these green, plastic tubes were crucial to the tree planting process as they create a microclimate for the growing saplings … but we could not help feeling slightly conflicted when using them. So, when Ruth and Steve showed us the biodegradable tubes, which were part of YDMT’s Plastic Free Woodlands project, we were excited to give them a go.

We had a selection of three biodegradable guards, along with some more sustainable bamboo stakes. Ruth and Steve suggested we use them all in a concentrated area as a test to see how they fared. We are yet to know the longevity of these guards, but it soon became clear which were easier to use. Naturally, we gravitated towards the tube guards, as they were like plastic guards we were in the habit of using. We found they fit best into our rhythm of planting.

In contrast the cardboard guards were at first confusing to use. It was a bit like origami attempting to open them up and attach them to the stakes. Once we had got our heads round how to use them, we got back into our rhythm, but we were still sceptical how long they would last exposed to the elements. While we missed the simplicity of the plastic guards, it was clear we could not rely on them forever and overall, we were more than happy to make the switch. We are excited to see developments in improving the tree planting process and are optimistic that these biodegradable guards could be the answer.

Finishing the project has been bittersweet; while we are glad to see all the trees in their rightful place and certainly feel a sense of relief to have it done, we have genuinely enjoyed our tree planting experience and are sad to see it end. Women are not always encouraged to pursue ‘manual labour’ jobs and that was certainly a stereotype we had internalised, at first feeling like we just weren’t cut out for it. But we proved ourselves wrong and that has been incredibly rewarding!

We both feel we are at crossroads in our lives due to the pandemic and this project has given us confidence that we can do anything we put our minds to, an attribute that we both know we will take forward as we both move away for University in September.

We hope, if anything, our story encourages others like us to get involved in projects like this.

Environmentally and personally, it has been an unbelievably fulfilling project and we cannot thank Ruth and Steve at Collingholme enough for giving us the opportunity to do this.