The Story of Shotbolt Wood

In February 2000, my brother John, his wife Lyn and I realized a lifetime's ambition to plant a small wood. The opportunity arose when we were able to buy three acres of farmland next to John and Lyn's marina at Bill Fen near Ramsey in Cambridgeshire. The story of Shotbolt Wood, as it will be known, is told below.

Much Wood This is Much Wood and Mary's Wood, planted on the outskirts of Ramsey in November 1998 as a Millennium project. The site spans 4 acres and about 200 people helped with the planting which was completed in half a day. We'll copy and hopefully improve on the same procedures for for own wood.
First look The first look at the site of Shotbolt Wood. It's a rectangular plot measuring 145m x 60m (450ft x 200ft), 0.88ha or just over 2 acres, and it looks ENORMOUS! The farmer has left it unploughed, and it's in absolutely perfect condition for planting a wood.
Key Home Gardener After doing some research on the Net and consulting the late Terry Wells, a renowned local botanist, I made the final selection of suitable tree and shrub species. I then drew a planting plan using a program called Key Home Gardener. To give the maximum flexibility in planting, cell-grown plants were chosen and quotes were placed with five tree nurseries. The order was won by a clear margin by Ashlands Nurseries in Yorkshire.
Baby trees The young trees have arrived. Most of the species are native to the Fens, but we are also having small plantations of Beech and conifers, and a mixed native hedge on the field boundary. The complete order of 1380 trees and shrubs, which totalled about £630, is shown below.
400 Silver Birch       350 Common Oak
200 Ash                100 Blackthorn
100 Hawthorn           30 Field Maple
20 Alder               20 Hornbeam
20 White Willow        20 Beech
20 Larch               20 Scots Pine
10 Crab Apple          10 Black Poplar
10 Dogwood             10 Purging Buckthorn
10 Dog Rose            10 Elder
10 Guelder Rose        10 Wild Service Tree
Richard's hedge John has mown the site and cut marker lines with a pair of spikes 2.5m (8ft) apart fixed to the back of his tractor. I have planted my 250 hedging shrubs along the field boundary, all done in one long afternoon with a raging migraine! The grey material is spun polypropylene mulch matting, which retains moisture and shades out weeds. Each shrub is protected by a tree shelter supported by a bamboo cane to deter rabbits and voles.
Carl planting a tree It's mid-February 2000, and planting of the wood has begun. Over the two main planting days, we were ably assisted by about a dozen helpers and fortified with soup and drinks from Lyn. This is Carl planting a Silver Birch. Annie the Labrador wants to help as well by dropping stones in the planting holes!
End of first day The planting is progressing well. It's the end of the first day, and 600 trees are in! The trees are in straight rows along the plot to make maintenance simpler, but they are staggered fairly randomly when seen from any other direction. A wide path snakes from end to end. A gap has been left under the power lines in the distance; beyond that is a small area of Silver Birch which will be underplanted with shrubs in due course.
Carl making planting holes Nearly the end of the second day. Carl is making the last few planting holes with a modified bulb-planter welded to a long handle. The trees are set at 2.5m spacing, determined by the wooden gauge. The soil over most of the plot is black, peaty and slightly acid (pH 6.4), ideal for most tree species. It's heavy clay at the far end though, no doubt dredged out when the river was excavated.
September 2001 It's September 1st 2001, and the growth put on by the trees has been phenomenal, especially considering that they spent about a month with their roots underwater in the spring. Many of the Silver Birch are over 2m high, and some of the Oak and Ash are approaching head height. There are about ten failures, which we have replaced with Wild Service Trees. Routine maintenance involves me keeping the bases clear of weeds, and John mowing along the rows occasionally.
Privet Hawk Moth caterpillar The wildlife is taking full advantage of the wood, with skylarks singing overhead most of the time, and insects buzzing among the wild flowers which grow along the rows. This is a Privet Hawk Moth caterpillar which is forgiven for munching the leaves on an Ash sapling!.
Trees in Spring 2005 This is the view from one corner in April 2005. The trees are now five years old. The Silver Birch stand 4-5m high, and some of the Oak are over 3m. The hedge has grown to make a continuous screen. Maintenance work now involves pruning of the lower branches to make a clear canopy. Birds are nesting in the trees and hedge, and several interesting fungi have made an appearance, including the delicious Prince mushroom and the poisonous Brown Roll Rim.
July 2007

It's July 2007, and this is me in front of the Silver Birch, which are now 6-7m high. In February we planted 1500 Bluebells, and more shrubs were planted as an understorey. A wet area was also completely replanted. We used these species:

Wild Privet       Wayfaring Tree
Field Rose        Wild Pear
Hazel             Alder Buckthorn
Grey Sallow       Purple Osier
Common Osier      Snowberry
Raspberry         Bird Cherry

We now have most British woody species, and moth expert Barry Dickerson has recorded 29 species of Leaf Miners.

Aerial View 2008

This is an aerial view of Shotbolt Wood taken in September 2008. The shelterbelt or 'nurse crop' of Silver Birch around the perimeter can be clearly seen. In the centre, the Oak and other species have just closed their canopy, so the lush vegetation under the trees will gradually diminish from now on as the light is excluded. To the left of the wood is a small but productive orchard, a wildlife pond, and a shelterbelt of Leylandii and White Poplar. The grassy area in the upper left is used to host public events.

You can see many more pictures (some from the air) on the Bill Fen Marina web site.