Tree planting at Butcombe – what to expect

There’s one main task for December to March – we have 2000 trees to plant. They’re native broadleaves: oak, field maple, small leaved lime, birch, aspen, alder, wild cherry, crab apple,
rowan, sweet chestnut, beech, hazel, hawthorn, goat willow, dogwood, spindle, dog rose, holly and blackthorn.


The trees are ‘whips’, two years old and about 60cm high with good roots. They’re bare-rooted and they’re planted in a notch – no need to dig holes, just make a slit in the ground with a spade. Each tree will have a tree shelter and stake or a spiral-guard and cane to protect them from deer, rabbits an other wildlife.

The trees need to be planted by mid-March whilst they are still dormant, after that the roots will be growing and will be easily damaged by planting. I can’t do it all myself so I’ve invited lots of friends to help. If you’re reading this and I haven’t invited you yet then please get in touch!

I’m writing this blog post on a rainy December Sunday.  The trees were delivered a couple of days ago and I’d hoped to start planting this weekend but it’s been too wet – I don’t plant trees in the rain! With last year’s experience at Upton Cheyney, I think this winter’s planting should go smoothly. I know what to do, I’ve got all the tools we need and I know how to organise, feed and look after the people who I hope will offer to come along and help plant. We’ll have plenty of time for exploring, eating, playing and socialising. When we’re planting we’ll be working in teams of 2 to 4 (plus kids and dogs – optional!). Compared to last year we have more time and fewer trees so it should be easy! Between planting, there’s a footpath which leads to Blagdon Lake (only about 100m away) so there’s plenty of exploring to do.

Some care is needed to get the trees in the right combinations and places – trees that will grow well together and will thrive in that location. We’ll be planting them 2 or 3 metres apart and leaving many paths and tracks and clearings. I’ve already colour-coded the stakes to mark planting positions. This year everything (trees, stakes, etc) is stored at home so I’ll be taking a trailer full each planting day.

Planting needs reasonable weather – on a good day the field is a beautiful sunny place (with great views) but if it’s raining then  wet planting days will be cancelled the evening before in consultation with the weather forecast. We also can’t plant if the round is frozen hard or covered with snow (but we can still go out there and play if you like).

tree planted with tree guard
tree planted with tree guard

Planting will involve collecting a bundle of trees, finding where they need to go, making a notch for each with a spade and inserting the roots sand the stake (or cane). Close the notch up (spade or heel). Add the tree-guard (or spiral). It’s easy, I can demonstrate.

There’s other jobs to do besides planting – tree guards to move around the field, fires to light, hot food and drinks to make, photos to take and lot more. And of course you’re welcome to stop and play.

Comforts provided! There’s a lovely compost loo (or you’re welcome to just pee in the woods, the trees will love it). We’ve got a fantastic home-made rocket stove for boiling kettles and cooking, with conventional camping stove for backup and very probably a camp-fire too. Plenty of camp chairs and an endless supply of hot drinks and snacks. I’m hoping to sort out some shelter – but expect a large tent or gazebo rather than a cosy sitting-room.

Parking space is reasonable, there’s hard-standing for about five cars at the field entrance. Ask me for detailed directions including public transport and cycling options. Let me know when you’re thinking of coming (short notice is fine, even text me on the day) so I can send detailed directions and also I can let you know the evening before if plans change due to weather forecasts.

Roe deer: cute but not invited to eat the trees
Roe deer: cute but not invited to eat the trees

Have fun! You can bring friends, kids and dogs, they’re very welcome. The field has plenty of open space and some woods and wildlife to explore. It isn’t particularly hazardous. Ball games and other toys are fine (away from the newly planted trees please). If you’re still around at dusk we could try badger spotting before we go home, I haven’t seen one yet but there’s plenty of evidence of them. You don’t have to plant trees, it will be nice to see you anyway!

If you’re coming you could bring:

  • Lots of warm clothes, including hats, gloves and waterproofs.
  • Boots or wellies. The field is grassy with not very much mud but if you’re planting trees you’re sure to find at least a little bit.
  • Camera, binoculars (for wildlife), kite and other toys (sledge if it’s snowy). Torch  if you want to stay after dusk.
  • I have a collection of tools for planting but if there’s a lot of people around we could make good use of one or two more spades (ideally narrow ones like border spades or planting spades but anything will do). Also mallets (to bang 3cm square wooden stakes into soft ground).
  • There will be hot drinks and snacks, hot food at lunchtime and more but this may vary depending on who’s coming – I’ll email to confirm so you can decide whether to bring anything more. There is no drinking water supply but I’ll take a water container for drinking and hand-washing.

Tree planting – Butcombe 2016

A new project for early 2016 – planting trees in a five acre field near Butcombe (12 miles to the South of central Bristol).
Over 4 months we’ll be planting about 3500 native broadleaved trees (including about 200m of hedgerow) to transform a grassy farmers field into a new 5-acre woodland. We’ll be there one or two days almost every weekend this winter.
This project will rely on volunteers to help with the planting . We’ll try to make it an enjoyable sociable experience (and we’ll postpone if the weather’s too wet – nobody wants to plant trees in the pouring rain!)

Last year’s tree planting success was so much fun that I want to do it again this year (on a smaller scale). I’m hoping to be joined again by lots of keen volunteers and together we’ll create another new woodland. Get in touch if you want to join in. I’ll be there at least one day most weekends (unless it’s raining).

This is the second and final woodland that I’m planning – I hope you’ll join me to plant it up to Easter.

This is how the field looked a few years ago, it's grassy now.
This is how the field looked a few years ago, it’s grassy now.

A few differences compared to last year’s tree planting at Upton Cheyney:

  • Fewer trees to plant (2075 compared to almost 4000 at Upton Cheyney)
  • The Butcombe field has it’s own road entrance – it’s not advisable to park in the field but the road entrance has a lay-by with space for about 5 cars
  • It feels more rural, the field is bordered by agricultural land
  • The grass was mown in September 2015 so we’ll be planting into short grass
  • A footpath from the bottom of the field leads directly to Blagdon Lake (200m)
  • Trees, materials and equipment will be stored off-site so I’ll be bringing them with me each day
  • I should have the trees in time to start planting in late November this year, and this year we know what we’re doing (last time we made a slow start in mid January and had to figure out what to do and what tools were needed over the first few weeks)

And a few similarities:

  • A beautiful sunny south-facing grassy field with a gentle slope down to a stream and a bordering woodland (but no existing woodland in the field this time)
  • Mature hedges all around, abundant wildlife including badgers and deer
  • We’ll be planting “whips” (young trees about 50 cm high) using the same notch planting technique as last year – so no digging required
  • The trees are all native broadleaves
  • We’ll use a combination of tree guards and spiral guards to protect the trees from damage
  • The whole thing will happen – I hope – with the help of lots of willing volunteers
  • Tree planting must be finished by the end of March at the latest (trees are coming out of dormancy by then) – I’ll come up with a list of dates but always subject to cancellation if the weather’s bad

The trees and shrubs to be planted (subject to final confirmation):

Alder 250
Aspen 125
Beech 50
Blackthorn 75
Crab Apple 75
Dog Rose 50
Dogwood 50
Field Maple 150
Hawthorn 125
Hazel 200
Holly 50
Hornbeam 125
Pedunculate Oak 350
Rowan 50
Silver Birch 100
Small Leaved Lime 125
Spindle 25
Sweet Chestnut 50
Wild Cherry 50
TOTAL 2075

[UPDATE: the above are from the Woodland Trust, I also have a lot of trees from OVO Energy’s I Dig Trees scheme, bringing the total to around 3500. The OVO trees are mostly more of the same varieties, and a couple of extra varieties including Wayfaring Tree and Guelder Rose]

These native trees have been selected to provide maximum support for wildlife. Thanks to The Woodland Trust who have again been immensely helpful in planning and stocking the woods.