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Hulls Mill Farm Woodlands

Chris Gagen (left) and Laurence mark the stumps where the red alders were felled.

Peter and Laurence Gagen, the owners, have just begun their first thinnings 11 years after they began afforesting their grazing land. This involves the removal of about 80% of the Red Alder which had been introduced at the suggestion of WH Trustee Steele Haughton. This species, together with further Oak and Ash, were planted to thicken up the plantation and help draw the young saplings towards the light. HERE IS THEIR REPORT :

The Red Alders have now finished doing their useful job because they are now “smothering – not mothering” the adjacent Oak and Ash with their fast growth rate. Fortunately, the Alder logs are making firewood (after seasoning) and we have sold some of this in log nets at the farm gate during our Christmas tree sales. The Red Alder is not native to this area and we have noted – with some relief – that there is very little, if any, regrowth from the stumps, unlike our Grey Alder. This may also account for the fact that most of the 7-8 year old Red Alders have been dying off during the past couple of years.


Laurence prunes a Woodland Heritage oak alongside two poor specimens.

Whilst walking through our young wood it becomes ever more apparent that the provenance of the plants – the Quercus Robur, or Common Oak, in particular – is very important. In our original planting of 1993, a number of the Oaks have such poor apical dominance that they are nothing better than Gooseberry bushes! Perfect for pheasants to sit under and for pigeons to nest in Nearly all the Oaks used for beating up (some of which were supplied by Woodland Heritage from carefully sourced East Anglian parents) are of good form and have positive leaders. Lesson learned check the quality of the plants you are buying. Bad youngsters will never make good trees in maturity.


Our pruning goes on as before, with the end in sight for the first formative trimming. Our preferred method is to select the apically dominant leader, then “tip” prune most of the other branches by between a quarter and a third, about 40% of the way down the trunk – then leaving a clean butt length to the ground. In this way, all the growing energy will be focussed on sending the lead shoot upwards and encouraging straightness in the trunk.


Vertical lines of hornet damage.

Whilst pruning our Ash in late September, we noticed that the upper parts of the trees – from 5 feet upwards – had been debarked, in some cases, quite severely. Then we noticed Hornets chewing the tender young bark – presumably for use in theirnest-building. Peter Goodwin told us that his friend, Bill Durlacher, had experienced the same problem on his similarly-aged Ash only 20 miles away on the edge of the Stour valley!


The astonishing growth of hybrid walnuts.

The growth rates of Woodland Heritage's trial plot of Black Walnuts, planted by Gabriel Hemery in February 2000, are nothing short of astonishing ! Being a south-east facing plot, sheltered on the northern and western sides by hawthorn hedging, the plot is is quite a suntrap. Four different types of Walnut, with five nurse tree and shrub species, were planted. The growth of the Nigra x Regia NG23 hybrid has been exceptional in only five years.

Bill reports: “The damage was first observed on 12 year old ash trees when pruning in the winter of 2001/02. The ash trees are planted throughout the wood, but damage was seen only at one end, adjacent to a small copse. On showing a damaged leader to a gamekeeper friend, without hesitation he suggested the cause was hornet damage, having observed such damage being done by hornets to a willow tree. In the summer of 2002 hornets were seen gnawing on the ash trees and then flying off in the direction of the old copse there, to presumably, extend their nest. Damage was particularly bad in the summer of 2003, but very much less noticeable in 2004.

Girding by hornets.

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+44 (0)1428 652159

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Woodland Heritage
P.O. Box 168
GU27 1XQ
United Kingdom


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