For over ten years I have grown a variety of trees native to the West coast of the UK. To work in the community of landscape restoration folk repairing the damage caused by ten thousand years of agriculture. Initially the idea was to acquire marginal agricultural land and manage its restoration by raising the saplings required then being confident that the replanting used trees of local provenance.
However when the second cooperative collapsed, I concentrated on raising the seedlings – just growing on one smallholding as new native woodland and selling on the other stock. The new market plan was thus to supply farmers taking up this environmental challenge and restoring woodlands to provide shelter, windbreak, landscape enhancement, bird and insect havens and a host of other reasons. There should also be a strong demand from smallholders and from landscaping following road building, industrial construction and even housing projects.
We collected seedstock locally, learned about the necessary treatments and, over time, found out a whole load more. Well, you always learn best by experience. Sometimes doing something daft, sometimes genuine new discoveries. Shall I tell you about the benefits of earthworms in the germination of holly seeds? These are tough to get started and will typically germinate in the third spring after harvest. So you mix the seed, once well cleaned, into a fifty-fifty peat and course sand compost. (Or peat substitute, to be more pc) I filled six 2.5 litre pots and left them. Following the second winter I thought I’d just check. From five of the six pots I gathered three or four sprouted holly seedlings but, in the final pot, there were scores. Also in the pot was a single enormous earthworm!
Sadly my business skills could not overcome an antagonistic local authority and the fundamental change to European Agricultural subsidies. In one simple ruling farms were all moved from grant per head of sheep/cattle onto payment per hectare. This at once caused land prices to skyrocket and forestry could not compete. In truth, though, I had not been able to grow sufficient volume quickly enough and was unable to compete on price with the large very commercial nurseries. Local provenance was not sufficient an attraction for what buyers there were.
In all I probably grew up some 20000 saplings in this period , all of which are out there fixing carbon happily. Now the nursery is on standby ready to grow to produce some of the tens of millions that Wales alone will soon go on to plant.
To be continued….