The perils of planting by John Fielden, Tadcaster

Money doesn’t  grow on trees but planting them is good for morale in the short term and for the planet (we hope) in the long term. As foresters are one of the professions free to roam outside at the moment, my son and I met the man who has been organising the creation of two small woods for us. With generous help from HMG via a Woodland Creation Grant we planted six hectares with hornbeam, oak, birch and some conifers in two fields in 2019. We are located in the middle of the proposed Northern Forest that aims to plant 20 million trees stretching from Liverpool to Hull; this may have helped with the grant.

It was clear early this year that most of the conifers had not survived the floods this winter, but the broadleaved trees had. So our man arranged for what is called “beating up”, meaning the replacement of the dead young trees in early March. He also sprayed around each tree so that its growth was not suffocated by weeds and grasses. Last week we went to inspect them and found to our dismay that this time 99% of the replacements had died due to the current drought here. So we are back to square one as regards over 3,000 saplings.

This experience confirms what a very long term venture tree planting is. In England last year the nation planted about 2 million trees on 1,420 hectares (3,507 acres), a tiny step towards the target of achieving 17% tree cover compared with the present 10% and the Committee on Climate Change’s aim of adding 30,000 hectares of new planting each year.

Some of the trees we have planted will still be thriving and absorbing CO2 in a hundred years, but all that time they will need occasional thinning and protecting against deer and squirrels. In financial terms the activity is cost neutral, as the annual maintenance expenses may be balanced by sporadic income from logging and thinning. However there is the longer term CO2 perspective; “Planting or restoring trees is like putting money in the bank,” says Rob Jackson, a Professor in Earth System Science at Stanford. “Extra growth from carbon dioxide is the interest we gain on our balance.”

The global picture is gloomy. Over 15 billion trees are cut down each year and we struggle to plant 5 billion. Our small step makes a tiny contribution towards this, even though Mother Nature in this part of Yorkshire is not on our side.

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