Up in the woods Posted on October 1, 2012

We’ve been thinning conifers these last few weeks in the woods near Barmouth (where the first National Trust property overlooks the Irish Sea). Thinning seems to be the new forestry fashion; the alternative to the drastic clear-felling that leaves such ugly scars.


We are choosing and cutting down the biggest trees in a spruce plantation nearly fifty years old, craggy monsters 80 feet high and 10 feet round – bigger in fact than the sawmill really wants. They produce logs 12 or 16 feet long which will be sawn up for joist and rafters. The rest of the trees will grow on for a few more years; in this plan the light filtering in through the gaps in the canopy will allow the mass of fallen seed on the mossy floor to germinate. When we fell the next round of biggest trees (‘Target Dimension Felling’ is the technical term in vogue) there will already be a young population to carry on. The eventual aim is a quasi-natural wood with trees of all ages – and no more ugly clear-felling. The practical

difficulties are immense, though: every time you go back in to cut more trees you damage smaller ones and cut up the fragile ground.

In another part of the forest we are trying to restore old broad-leaved woodlands that the Forestry Commission, with its famous sensitivity to the environment, under-planted with all sorts of conifers. Western hemlock, however stately (and the prettiest green) does an oak wood no good at all. The outcry at the government’s proposal to privatize Forestry Commission land took no note of the fact that Britain’s best forests, and most enlightened forestry, is largely private. The proceedings of the Royal Forestry Society lag behind the best that France and Germany have to teach us, but certainly not behind anything the Commission is up to.


So our old oaks, beech, holly and birch are a sad sight while we cut and haul out the conifers that have been throttling them. Some will collapse, exposed too late and too radically to light and air. So we are underplanting new oaks among them. Birch, holly and the rest need no planting; we’ll soon be trying to control them. Forestry is not as slow-motion as most people think. Oaks need patience, though.


Home to the garden just starting to look autumnal. Lots of roses, not much fruit, and the first trees turning. Koelreutarias going orange, and Acer japonicum ‘Aconitifolium’ a medley of orange and cherry and scarlet, are in the lead.

Hugh’s Gardening Books

Sitting in the Shade

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The Story of Wine – From Noah to Now

A completely new edition published by the Academie du Vin Library: When first published in 1989 The Story of Wine won every…

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