Category Archives: Woodlands

Easy-build rocket Stove instructions

I use a rocket stove for cooking and hot water, faster and more efficient than an open fire and can be used in rain and wind. It burns sticks (eg 50mm diameter) not logs. Here’s how I built a simple rocket stove.

Built from:

  • an old gas cylinder (make sure it’s 100% empty before cutting)
  • two bits of steel tube
  • vermiculite or perlite (for insulation)
  • fire cement (to seal gaps)
  • Nuts and bolts to fix top (eg M3 x 40mm, 3 off)
  • Nuts and bolts to stop feed tube being pushed in (eg M3 x 20mm, 2 off)

No welding required, drilled and bolted instead (but see possible improvements below).


  • Ensure no trace of gas left in cylinder (flood it with water for absolute certainty)
  • Cut top of cylinder
  • Drill a small hole in the bottom of the cylinder, for drainage in case rain gets in.
  • Cut hole in top for inner tube
  • Put top on cylinder upside down to measure length of inner tube required
  • Cut inner tube to length
  • Cut hold in cylinder for feed tube
  • Place inner tube in cylinder and mark position of hole for feed tube (allowing feed tube to tilt up slightly )
  • Cut hole in inner tube for feed tube
  • Cut tabs in feed tube to bend, these will stop it coming out
  • Put inner tube and feed tube in place, bend tabs
  • Drill feed tube for bolts to stop it being pushed in, insert bolts
  • Drill cylinder and cylinder top for bolts to hold top on
  • Seal around feed tube with fire cement where it passes through cylinder and inner tube
  • Fill cavity with insulation
  • Put top in place and bold down
  • Left fire cement dry as per instructions before lighting
  • Keep top and feed tube covered when not in use, if it gets damp it will be harder to get it hot and so it won’t burn as efficiently .

Photos of the rocket stove in use coming soon…

Possible improvements for next time:

  • Self-tapping metal screws might be easier than drilling and bolting

Permissions to create a new woodland?

Do I need planning permission? This is a recurring question that I see from people considering planting new woodland.

I’m not a qualified expert to offer advice on this. I didn’t seek any kind of permissions for the two woodlands that I created on what was existing agricultural land. They are roughly 5 acres and 7 acres of new native woodland respectively.

My understanding is that on existing agricultural land no permission is required to plant trees on a “small” scale for non-commercial usage as it’s not a change of use. If your project involves using the land for something that’s fundamentally different from agriculture, like a campsite or woodland burial ground or leisure facility or a residential site or commercial forestry will more likely require change of use permission.

However, for larger woodlands or in certain areas you may need to do an environmental impact assessment (EIA) before creating new woodland. In many cases it appears that you will be required to notify the Forestry Commission rather than gaining permission.
Details here:

There are other less formal permissions that you could seek. For example talking you your neighbours (or prospective neighbours). I think it’s rare that people would object to nearby land being turned into permanent woodland but I’m sure there will be exceptions to this. People like to see grassy fields, people like clear views, people might have been to “informally” use the field in ways they you’re not aware. This can be especially true if there’s a public footpath and you’re expecting people (and their dogs) to keep to the footpath where previously they have been able to stray from it. I experienced instances of vandalism over the first couple of years when I put a new fence and hedge alongside a public footpath.

There’s a good argument that good quality agricultural land should be kept for agriculture, woodland doesn’t need prime fertile ground. You can check the agricultural land classification (ALC) using Magic Map. There’s a wealth of helpful information there. For ALC switch on layers under “Landscape / Geology and Soil / Landscape Classifications”. Look for “Agricultural Land Classification – Provisional (England)” and “Post 1988 Agricultural Land Classification (England)”. Unfortunately I don’t know of similar resources for other parts of the UK.

Magic Map, provided by DEFRA

Thoughts on Rewilding

Over the last couple of years rewilding has become a popular topic of conversation, led perhaps by Isabella Tree or Rewilding Britain or Extinction Rebellion. I don’t count myself as expert in rewilding – it’s not the same as the tree planting that I’ve done – but I have some thoughts on it.

  • Trees can be planted in many ways. At one end of the spectrum might be carefully arranged specimens or a monoculture coniferous forest arranged in rows. At the other end is the tree planting that I practice – young native tree whips arranged as best I can to mimic nature. The space between the trees is left to rewild, although realistically the planted trees will outcompete most of the products of rewilding.
  • Between the trees I’ve planted is thick grass, supporting numerous field voles, ant hills, grasshoppers and other small creatures. There are lots of nettles, ragwort, knapweed, thistles and other flowering plants. Also a few brambles but these mostly encroach from surrounding hedges rather then springing up everywhere. Amongst this a few trees spring up, notably oak and hazel which I think have probably been seeded by squirrels.
  • Trees which have grown from wild seed are likely to be stronger than the ones I’ve planted. Wild trees have to go through an only-the-fittest selection process in order to survive and thrive. Trees I’ve planted were artificially helped in a tree nursery and then by me, they didn’t have to fight too hard for survival.
  • I’ve planted trees into established pasture. This monoculture of well established grass is slow to rewild because it outcompetes most seeds. I’m told that arable land would rewild much faster than pasture.
  • Rewilding relies on large animals to disturb the soil and compete with the scrub. I have only deer, which tend to eat small trees (whether planted by me or rewilded). In time brambles will move in and protect the trees from the deer but that seems to be a very gradual process.
  • Many people (including me) plant trees with the intention of slowing climate change by sequestering CO2. I understand that trees and grass sequester similar amounts of carbon in the soil but that trees sequester substantially more above ground. Trees are of course at risk of fire which might kill them and as they burn return much of the above-ground carbon to the atmosphere. If this is not a major threat today it might be in years to come if climate change leads to long hot dry periods.
  • Planted trees establish much sooner then rewilding. How quickly you are able to sequester carbon is important, I see this as one important benefit of planting over rewilding.
  • I’ve planted a wide range of native trees and shrubs, some of these species are not present locally so rewilding based on whatever local seed is there might not have created such a diverse woodland.
  • Bringing in plants from outside the area (as I did with trees) carries a risk of spreading disease or pests. Rewilding based on naturally distributed local seed doesn’t carry that risk.
  • Before any significant intervention (for example planting trees), it’s important to have a good idea of the existing flora and fauna and how the site fits in with the surrounding ecosystem. This may mean seeing the site through the seasons and getting advice. It will take time which could be frustrating. My experience was that the process of finding and purchasing land takes months (like buying a house) and then you need to wait until tree planting season (winter), so observing nature can fit okay.

Looking for Like-minded people to plant a woodland?

Occasionally people contact me when they want to plant a woodland and they’re looking to meet others to join them. It could be a great way to fulfil your woodland dream as part of a small group but where do you find them? You want to be local to your woodland and so do they so I’d suggest looking for people near where you live.

Where to start looking for people to co-create a woodland on an equal basis (ie. people who can contribute financially and commit long-term to owning and managing the woodland)?

  • I find my own Facebook page can be very useful for things like this, giving me access to hundreds of nearby friends-of-friends.
  • If you don’t use Facebook then Nextdoor could work.
  • Small Woods Association “the national organisation for woodland owners, workers and supporters”. I contacted them to ask whether they can help link people together to create new woodlands, I’ll update this post when I get a reply.
  • Woodland Trust a major national charity “we want to see a UK rich in wood and trees”. I contacted them to ask whether they can help link people together to create new woodlands, I’ll update this post when I get a reply.
  • Tree Planting UK a Facebook group “to share details of tree planting schemes across the UK, and to encourage group members to get out there and plant trees”
  • Small Woodland Owners’ Group (SWOG) a Facebook group “For those who own and love woodlands in the UK. SWOG is free of charge, open to all and is sponsored by”
  • If you have other recommendations please let me know and I’ll add to this list

Learning from my mistakes

Digging a pond using a mini-digger
Digging a deep pond

I get two or three emails each week from people who found this blog and have questions to ask. Somebody just asked me “what [I] would do differently” . Here’s my top answers:

  • Deer Guards
    I’d like to have been able to do without stakes and tree guards. I needed to protect against deer. The bigger the site is (and the more trees you’re planning to plant), the more economically viable it becomes to exclude deer by perimeter fencing rather than a guard on every tree. I haven’t found a viable compostable tree grard yet so the plastic guards I use have to be removed and (if they can’t be reused) taken off site and disposed.
    The Forestry Commission has lots of deer fencing advice, their recommendation would definitely do the job but it’s not cheap and it doesn’t look all that simple to install yourself. I might try various approaches, like a metre-high stock-proof fence (I learnt how to do that) alongside an existing or new hedge; hopefully the deer can’t push through the fence or jump over the hedge. Or where I have a gappy boundary with a few trees I might try attaching the fencing to the trees so save putting in posts.
    One problem with making your boundary deer-proof is that if a deer manages to get in somehow it could be very difficult to get it out again.
  • Edibles
    I’d allocate more space for fruit and nut trees, either as an orchard or a forest garden (or some of each). I allowed about 1.5 acres of my total 10 acres for this purpose but I’ve now run out of that space and there’s lots more trees that I’d like to have there. If you’re not familiar with forest gardening then Martin Crawford’s books are a great place to start or you might find a local forest garden (here’s one that I’ve been meaning to visit).
  • Ponds
    I dug two deep ponds (having read that you should aim for 2m deep so the water stays colder in the summer, reducing evaporation). I had a lot of fun one weekend with a mini-digger but I wish I’d first checked the porosity of my subsoil. Neither pond holds water, the fill up in the Autumn but they’re both dry by late Spring. I could line them but that’s a big job and I would have dug them a different shape if I knew they would need liners.
  • Thinning
    I have an area of 20 year old woodland which was planted at 2m spacing and wasn’t thinned. It’s now very tall and thin as the trees compete for light and don;t have enough space to grow. I’m thinning gradually but you can’t take too much out in one year, they’re all likely to have weak root systems due to crowding so removing too many just leaves those remaining susceptible to windthrow. I wish I’d understood sooner what I needed to do, I could have started thinning 4 years earlier.
    The good thing is that I’m learning how I’ll need to manage the areas which I planted in 2015.
  • Finally
    The only other thing I can think of that I’d have done differently is that I’d have started it off years earlier.

How to select trees for new native woodland

This article contains some useful but hard-to-find information – although a lot of it is only relevant to Northern Ireland.


I had a lot of help from The Woodland Trust on choosing the overall selection and quantity of trees to plant but this kind of information would have helped me figure out how to arrange them. Some species work well alongside other species (and you often find them together ina natural environment). Others don’t, often because one grows faster than the other so would soon out-compete it or because they prefer different kinds of location to each other. The bit in the article about “planting in clumps” is useful knowledge.

By the way, TCV has an excellent series of handbooks, I own copies of several.

Update March 2019

Everything has grown, again. The trees planted last year seem to have done fine. I’ve added a few this year, mostly hedging. Some of the faster growing 2015 trees, such as alder and silver birch, now need to have their tree shelters removed as they’re getting tight around the trunks.

I’ve spent a lot of time sorting out the hedges that surround Upton Bottom Woods, removing a few dead trees and a lot of brambles and planting suitable species of shrubs and trees to fill the gap.

At Upton Bottom there are about two acres of trees which were planted around 20 years ago. They’re quite close together and there’s some fast-growing species there (especially bird cherry and ash). They’ve grown quite tall and spindly as they compete for the light, consequently they have narrow canopies and narrow root systems, making them vulnerable to wind-throw. They are also out-competing some of the slower growing species such as oak. The solution to this is to thinh trees out gradually over the years, allowing their neighbours to expand and thrive. To this end I’ve learnt to use a chainsaw, I recently completed a weekend course at The Woodland Skills Centre. I’m currently using a battery chainsaw which is quite adequate and is quieter, cleaner, less smelly then a petrol equivalent (as well as easier to maintain with less to go wrong).

Some of my apple trees are old enough to be a little bit productive now, I harvested about 150 apples in the autumn from about 15 trees. There are many more trees but most of them aren’t old enough or big enough yet. I’m experimenting to find out which varieties of apple store well, some of them have lasted into March in reasonable condition. Pears, cherries, plums and various “exotics” have been very limited so far.

Nature continues around the man-made woodland. I see deer most times that I’m there, grey squirrels continue to strip bark from trees. Voles nest in tree shelters and occasionally gnaw through the base of young trees, killing them or at best coppicing them. No signs of bats using my bat boxes yet. It’s hard to tell whether the bird boxes are in use other than by squirrels which have been gnawing them. An owl regularly swoops low over the field at dusk. Fungi flourishes at this time of year – decay amongst the mature trees is welcome as a part of the natural cycle. Ants build hills and regularly build vertical nests in spiral guards which occasionally buries and kills small trees.

Update Spring 2018

Upton Bottom Woods, March 2018

Everything grew well in 2017 but it still feels more like a field of plastic tubes than a woodland!

Sadly a few more trees adjacent to the footpath at Butcombe have been vandalised, but they are a tiny minority of the total.

We planted another 1800 trees and shrubs over the winter: replacements for a very few failures, improving hedges, filling a few gaps. There’s no space left.

I have a couple of acres of woodland which was planted densely about 18 years ago. Now it’s over-crowded and I need to think about some thinning so as to let the strongest trees grow and put down strong roots.

My biggest problem is grey squirrels which strip bark and are causing substantially damage to the 18 year old trees. Deer are damaging these trees and the recent plantings. Ants also continue to kill newly planted trees by building their ant nests in tree shelters, swamping the trees.

I’m gradually getting brambles under control and I’m adding bit-by-bit to the forest garden. Lots to do.

I’ve recently joined Small Woods, they seem to be a good source of advice and knowledge.

Meanwhile I’m working with a few others on plans for a collective land purchase and tree planting project somewhere near Bristol.

Tree planting 2017 is finished!

Last Sunday afternoon we planted the final tree at Upton Cheyney. This is the end of large scale tree planting, both fields are now full. Over three winters we’ve planted just under 11000 native trees and shrubs in two fields totalling 16 acres, about 140 individuals joined in (many of you on more than one occasion). Thank you all!

I recently spent a day planting trees with a new friend who is just starting on a similar endeavour, he has a 19 acre woodland to plant (over several winters) near to Chew Stoke. It’s nice to know I’m not the only one! If you have similar aspirations, either by yourself or as a part of a group, do let me know: I can offer help and advice and quite possibly connect you with like-minded other people.
Love and trees, Gavin

Tree planting 2017

** Updated 13/3 ** – Butcombe is now fully planted, Upton Cheyney is well on the way. After this year both fields are more-or-less fully planted so no further mass planting sessions likely.

I have 1200 trees to plant in March 2017, filling gaps in the woodlands that we planted in 2015 (Upton Cheyney) and 2016 (Butcombe).  That’s a lot less than we planted in previous years, and these will all be planted with canes and spiral guards (much faster than hammering in stakes) – but tree planting season is coming to an end so they need to be in the ground soon.

There are four weekends in March, I’m aiming to plant trees on each of those eight days. Most of the planting will be at Upton Cheyney but enough for one or two days planting at Butcombe. March is the end of the planting season but it’s a great time for planting – warmer and sunnier.
My plan (subject to change and in case of bad weather cancellation):
  • Saturday 4th March – Upton Cheyney – completed
  • Sunday 5th March – Upton Cheyney – cancelled – too rainy
  • Saturday 11th March – Butcombe – done!
  • Sunday 12th March – Upton Cheyney – done!
  • Tues 14th March – Upton Cheyney
  • Thurs 16th March – Upton Cheyney (early finish)
  • Saturday 18th March – Upton Cheyney
  • Sunday 19th March – Upton Cheyney
  • Sat 25th March – contingency if not finished – Upton Cheyney
  • Sunday 26th March – contingency if not finished – Upton Cheyney (Mothers Day, you’re welcome to bring her with you!)
  • Weekdays – I’ll be planting trees at least one more day each week – if you want to join me please get in touch, dates are flexible
Here’s the trees for this 2017, they’re currently in neat temporarily heeled-in bundles in my vegetable patch:
Alder 20
Beech 50
Bird Cherry 50
Blackthorn 110
Crab Apple 40
Dogwood 110
Downy Birch 50
English Oak 50
Field Maple 40
Goat Willow 110
Green Willow 30
Grey Willow 10
Guelder Rose 110
Hawthorn 110
Hornbeam 50
Norway Maple 50
Rowan 90
Silver Birch 75
Small Leaf Lime 25
Wild Cherry 50

* plus a few extra which I’ve grown myself or bought from elsewhere

It will be much the same as previous years, but even better (two years’ experience of this I now, so what I’m doing now). Turn up, plant some trees, coffee break, plant some trees, lunch break, plant some trees, head home whenever you’re ready. Hot drinks and hot lunch provided, tent for shelter, all the usual facilities (and more parking space). No stakes and tree guards this year, only canes and spiral guards, this makes things faster and easier. The tree planting is optional, you’re welcome to come and just enjoy being there. As always the weather will be good on planting days, because in case of bad weather I’ll cancel/postpone.

You’re most welcome to bring friends, family, dogs, etc. It’s family-friendly and it’s a great day out but you’re responsible for looking after your own kids and dogs, I’ll be mostly focussed on looking after  adults and trees. Planting trees is 100% optional, if you have a great day out and don’t quite get round to any planting that’s fine!
I’ll have all the usual comforts – hot drinks and hot lunch on the rocket stove, an even bigger box tent if we need shelter, the compost loo, etc. I did a bit of earth moving last year so there’s more space for cars at Upton Cheyney this time.
If I’m not already emailing you about this please contact me if you want to come or for further info.