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"From Borehole to Butt"


How I am growing oak in Round Wood on the Froyle Estate near Alton in Hampshire on a 70 to 75 year rotation in order to produce 3 to 4 metre veneer quality butts.

First of all, I studied the site, looking at the overstorey which contained 24 large mature oak trees. The under-storey was predominantly hazel coppice alongside bluebells, Solomon’s seal and dogs mercury growing as ground flora.

I then dug a soil pit which revealed the top-soil to be loam and the sub-soil to be clay with flint over chalk, to a depth of 3 feet. The site elevation was 350 feet on an east facing slope.

When the over-storey was felled, 23 butts were found to be of veneer quality and were sold to Reif & Sons of Manchester. This confirmed to me what I had already suspected – that this was a prime site for growing veneer quality oak. Such a project was, however, against the prevailing advice from the Forestry Commission which seemed intent on promoting conifer plantations at the time.

Fifty years on, my decision seems justified as the plantation has gained a Centre of Excellence award and the quality of the next generation of butts is self-evident. This seems to prove that observation and consideration of the site is much more important than indulging in any current trend or fad. Forestry is a long term industry.

The planting took place in 1956 with the objective of producing veneer quality butts within 70 to 75 years – an unheard of policy ! I used a mixture of Pedunculate oak (quercus robur) and European Larch (larix decidua). I firmly believe that a healthy oak produces a good tap root, equally as long as its leader and that this makes for a better tree. The tap roots on the seedlings chosen for the planting were, therefore, left intact and a crowbar was used to bore a deep hole in order to accommodate the tap root without damaging it.

The planting matrix used was 3 rows of oak at 5 foot spacing, then 3 rows of larch at 6 foot spacing – with an 8 foot space between each block of oak and the larch. The use of larch was designed to prevent overtopping of the oak in the early years, whilst still helping to draw the oak up.

Hand weeding was carried out during the first five years after planting – and cleaning a further five years later. The first thinning of the larch took place after 12 years, along with green pruning of the oak.

At 15 years, the first thinning of the oak took place, with the final crop trees being selected together with an additional 20% – to cover any future loss.

All subsequent thinning favoured the final crop trees’ crown formation, as I believe that a healthy crown prevents excessive branching and epicormic growth. The larch were high pruned to 20 feet after 25 years and have since been progressively thinned out of the matrix.

I was once asked by a Forestry Commission officer whether I had planted the larch as a nurse species, or for economic reasons. I replied that I had used the larch as an economic nurse because it helps draw out a good form in the oak and subsidises long oak rotation with its own faster rotation.

Over the years, I have noticed – and encouraged where practical – the natural regeneration of wild cherry (prunus avium). Round Wood greatly benefits from this species.

I suppose that my overriding philosophy must that, “God gave you eyes, so use them”.

Walter Start M.B.E.

 

 

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