Woodland Creation Project

2020 also went by in a whirl of trees! I have managed to grow and provide 17,500 trees in the tree nursery in the last two years for our Woodland Creation Project (WCP). 4,000 were provided and planted in March 2020 and the further 13,500 trees have just gone out over the last 6wks. The first picture below is the tunnel just going into Autumn colours of 2020 and the second picture taken in January 2021.

A short sharp shock was indicated in March 2020 with the announcement of the first lockdown that I might be in for a busy year! I had volunteers lined up to arrive in April to help grade, pack and plant out the first 4,000 trees from the nursery for the start of the WCP. I also had four separate weeks fully booked of conservation working holidays helping transplant the tiny seedlings germinated in seeds trays into individual rootrainer cells.

The initial planting in March 2020 had its trials and logistical tribulations! This was the first time packing this size an order of trees to leave the tree nursery. I had started wrapping them in pallet wrap which was a good solution but took absolutely ages by hand… and then I started reusing and packing the trees in compost bags. It had to be manageable smaller amounts as the first planting site was only accessible by foot. With the cancellation of volunteers I had the help from Wes the islands ‘tree man’. We were going to the tunnel in the morning, packing what we needed for the day and carrying everything in and then planting. You can imagine this was slow progress and absolutely exhausting! My most favourite day was on the third week when Wes appeared out of the woods pulling the trees up the hill in a pull along granny shopping trolley!! It still makes me laugh out loud when I see this picture a year later….

Despite the challenges and hilarity(!) we managed to complete the first portion of the WCP . I went on to methodically work through the seedling transplants to ensure there was enough for the second batch of the much larger amount of 13,500 to be ready for planting January 2021.

Covid restrictions actually had a very positive outcome for me personally and the tree nursery. I was enormously lucky to still have work and something to focus on throughout these strange times! And especially a job that was focused on growing and planting trees, learning so much from being in the outdoors, in and around the tunnel on such a regular period monitoring the seasons throughout the year.

As an island, we decided to stay closed to visitors as restrictions lifted everywhere else to remain as a large bubble and keep our whole community safe. We only opened up to non residents in September briefly, until we went onto the winter ferry service and by xmas another lockdown with everyone else. With virtually no visitor season it allowed me to fully focus on the tree nursery alone and achieve the target of supplying the full 13,500 trees to fulfill the Woodland Creation Project..

Autumn of 2020 seed collecting was able to commence as normal as all species can be collected on island bar the acorns. Acorns are conveniently ready to collect in October when travel restrictions were relaxed here and I managed a trip off island which was an immense relief to get a break away from the island and to see new faces! Although most of my time was spent wondering about local woodlands but it was well worth it as it was a brilliant year for acorns again.

Straight after the quietest New Year on record, I started to sort through and make a plan on how we were going to pack the trees for the upcoming planting. You can see from the first picture below we had a significant amount of trees lost to vole damage. Something new to learn every day. These kinds of natural disasters(!) have to be accounted for and add a % on to the final stock required for each year. Even with the vole damage luckily I had enough stock as we had a bumper year for Oak and Hazel. Packing the second time round I initially reused banana boxes given from the islands shop until we found the perfect solution. Energyze cattle tubs with tight fitting lids! They are ideal for bumpy transportation and keeping the trees moist until planting.

There was some significant upgrades on the second planting phase. We were able to employ two other residents along with myself to plant and complete the project before the deadline of March. The largest upgrade was from shopping trolley(!) to an Argo plus our trusty logistical advisor/driver! Without the use of the Argo the project would not have been possible without a lot of blood sweat and tears! The actual feasibility of transporting that amount of trees, guards and tools through the thick/high heather terrain to the planting sites wouldn’t have been possible within the timescales.

It was still a challenging couple of months even getting the extra planting power and Argo wheels mainly due the erratic weather, We were incredibly lucky as the worst of the gales and rain seemed to happen overnight or at the weekends up until the fourth week when we were hit with the super cold snap and the ground was frozen solid for the entire week. We can only hope that the trees we had already planted will survive ok…. With the dedicated team in delivering the project we still managed to finish before the deadline. It has been a huge learning experience to follow through the entire 18month chain of the project from collecting the seed, sowing, transplanting, nurturing, packing and planting! How fantastic is that…

The Woodland Trust has helped finance the project by bridging the financial gap between the outgoings prior to the grant money being paid in from Scottish Forestry for Woodland Creation.

Another aspect of the WCP that has been really interesting is the archaeological sites. 20mtr buffer zones had to be marked out to ensure no planting was done on any mapped archaeological sites within the planting area. And then when planting began it was interesting to be working the ground around these ancient hut circles imagining how folk used and lived on these sites. After a few days I started to realise each hut had the folklore distinctive Rowan tree planted near by to keep bad spirits away.

When I had first properly tramped and surveyed over the terrain of the WCP site it was Oct/Nov 2019 when the bracken was dying back but still very thick to wade through and the only other areas other than the open bracken areas is thick waist high heather exhausting to fight through or areas of extreme bog! I really wasn’t looking forward to the start of planting. But as planting began and time was being spent on different areas I could start to imagine the little communities living in these areas working the land we were planting in. It has been a pleasure getting to know an area of Eigg I had least explored.

With the WCP complete I can focus on the next year of orders and requirements for our own replanting in the policy woodlands, the recently harvested plantation, setting up a memorial woodland and allowing for the beat up operation of the WCP. Approx 8 – 10,000 trees. Similar to last year but without the pressure as I now know it is possible on my own if we don’t have volunteers again this year.

Now the planting has finished I am straight back into the polytunnel to set the next generation of trees off in seed trays.

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