Tree Planting Plans

When we first saw the land, a number of pieces of life’s puzzle slipped neatly into place. The croft was steep and unsuitable for agriculture, but it would be perfect for trees.

Hugh and I both love trees and believe that there is a strong need to plant them, both to increase the biodiversity of the land but also to offset the effects of climate change with carbon capture in whatever way that we could.

We started to look into Woodland Croft creation. Despite the northern latitude, strong winds and exposed coastal location, many types of tree are naturalised and grow well on the island.

Sleat is the least exposed part of the island, a peninsula turning its face towards the mainland on the south side of Skye. As such, lying nestled between the Cuillins to the North West and the Knoydart hills to the South East, it’s at least partly sheltered from the full force of the Atlantic.

Although Skye is almost barren of trees, being famous for huge expanses of high moorland and mountain, Sleat has more trees than the rest of the island. We are lucky, and the more we looked into it, the more we felt that a diverse planting would be completely viable.

The Woodland Trust offer advice and help with tree planting, but due to the recent rise in interest in this area, they are completely overloaded. There are long lead times to even get to see them to discuss plans. They’ve handed over some of their work to the Scottish Forestry Commission, who have been in touch at last and who will be assessing the croft land for tree planting viability next week. We can’t wait for the report.

We expect the recommended species to be a mix of trees such as rowan, alder, blackthorn, grey willow, downy and silver birch, sessile oak, scots pine, hazel, wych elm, holly and aspen.

We want to supplement these plantings with wild, edible hedges filled with crab apple, blackberries and hawthorn, and an area of sheltered orchard with hazelnuts, apples, cherries and pears.

As soon as we have the Forestry Commission report we can discuss deer protection and build a planting plan for the land. Even though we know that the first trees probably won’t go in for at least another year, it still feels like a milestone in the journey!

The relative slowness of this process is frustrating, but in a way it’s also contemplative, allowing time for our initial thoughts to be challenged and supplemented with local wisdom. We’re watching other local crofts start this, and learning what works and what doesn’t.

Don’t get me going on the merits of spiral guards, staking, vole protection and windbreaks now…☺️

Wilding, the book

Wilding, by Isabella Tree, is a book based on an experimental re-wilding of a 3,500 acre farm in West Sussex.

Forced to accept that the intensive farming of the heavy clay soils of their farm at Knepp was driving it close to bankruptcy, they handed the farm back to nature.

The results in terms of biodiversity, soil fertility and increased wildlife have been nothing short of astonishing.

This is a pioneering book describing a brave and far-reaching experiment. If we can achieve these results on a piece of intensively farmed, chemically fertilised, biologically sterile land situated under the flight path at Gatwick, with time and patience we can achieve them anywhere.

Books like this provide inspiration and reinforcement of the thought that given half a chance, nature will fight back and thrive.

What we do to our little six acre pocket of land on Skye will be much less impactful than the 3,500 acres at Knepp, and the soil, weather and environmental challenges will be very different, but to the local area of Sleat it will be just as important.

So many ideas and plans. We can’t wait to start.

Bluebells and pignuts

Our next trip to the croft is in September, and itching to make a start, any kind of start, we’ve bought some seeds to sew in the established patch of woodland on the western boundary.

We can’t start anything on the main croft land until the drainage and groundworks are complete, which won’t start until the Autumn, so the little woodland belt is the place to begin some underplanting.

First off, I’ve bought pignut seeds.

Pignut is small perennial herb, whose underground root resembles a chestnut and is sometimes eaten as a wild or cultivated root vegetable. It has fascinated me for many years.

The name Pignut comes from its popularity with pigs, who root it out for its flavour, which is said to be similar to water chestnut. Wild food foragers also love it and jealously guard their sources.

Secondly, I’ve sourced some bluebell seed from a small, licensed croft on the Isle of Eigg. Eddie’s Croft.

Bluebell seed can be procured from many places, but I particularly wanted to find Scottish bluebell seed, and being so close to Skye, seed grown on Eigg will, I think, be more naturalised to the climate and conditions there. We will scatter it in the birch grove and hope that in a few years we’ll have the beginnings of a sea of blue.

It’s a small start, but it’s a start, and it’s exciting to be making our first mark on the land, however modest.

Sobering reading

The sun is shining this Easter weekend and most folks in the U.K. are heading to an overcrowded beach in the rush to escape the cities, or consuming their body weight in mass produced chocolate eggs. Perhaps for our generation it has ever been thus.

In this home the long weekend break is a little different. This book is on the side table pile for consumption, and I’ve just started it. I’m two chapters in so far.

It’s not a book about the science of climate change. I’m sure that we’ve all heard about that, and although it’s something that I totally believe in, the most frightening thing for me is that I see that it’s almost impossible for many others to sustain strong feelings about it, such is its’ enormity. It’s simply too large and horrific to believe it’s real.

Others won’t believe it until it affects them directly. I watch people struggling to equate the facts with their protected urban reality in their continued disconnection with nature.

This is one of the reasons that we have decided to live at the edge and grow woodland, trying in our small way to leave a small patch of the planet able to support biodiversity and wildlife.

This book is about what it will be like to live on this planet should we continue the trajectory that we’re on. It’s a depiction of real Armageddon.

The writing is clear and powerful. I’d urge you get a copy and to read it.

Whilst the gales lash outside..

On the reading table for consumption this weekend are two books on permaculture and perennial vegetable growing:-

  • The Earth Care Manual – a permaculture manual for Britain and other temperate climates by Patrick Whitefield
  • How to grow perennial vegetables – low maintenance, low impact vegetable gardening by Martin Crawford

The first is a book on permaculture in Britain and other temperate zones. It’s said to be the definitive manual on the practical application of permaculture principles to our islands, written passionately and compellingly by an author who has been an exponent of the permaculture movement since 1990.

As I am a firm believer in permaculture as a movement, I am very much looking forward to this as a read.

The second was inspired by another blogger who posts on perennial vegetables, which sounded like such a wonderful and practical idea that I just had to know more.

Perennial vegetables are those that don’t need replanting annually, but last at least three years in the soil, and in many cases many years more. It contains over 100 perennial vegetables, from the commonplace to some that I have never heard of, with tips on how to source seeds, how to grow them, and recipes for their use.

It looks fascinating, and a quick browse has shown me how many plants I hadn’t even heard about, let alone realised that they were edible and worthy of cultivation!

Let the gales blow and the rain lash the windows this weekend. I will be tucked up on the sofa with these two lovelies and a mug of tea.