This year’s planting programme on the Chayne has been held up by my extended absences at the leks, so I found a few hours the other day to put in a load of trees on the back hill in an old four acre dyked paddock which has been overrun with bracken. This is perhaps not the best site on the farm for black grouse, but the fallen bracken always holds a woodcock or two in January and it could do with a facelift. Some extremely old oak trees are dotted around inside the enclosure, and close inspection reveals that these trees are trying to reproduce. Unfortunately, the smothering effect of the bracken kills off most of the saplings each year, and the few that survive are strange, lanky creatures with a tuft of two of leaves at their highest points.
Planting trees amongst bracken is a much under-rated means of controlling it, since as soon as the trees develop their own canopy, they start to inhibit its rampant growth. In the primordial days of yore, this shading effect was probably nature’s way of keeping on top of the species, and it is certainly more practical as a control measure from my perspective since it creates the kind of scrubby, brackeny undergrowth that is favoured by many upland birds and beasts. This area of the farm is particularly bare and barren, nibbled and browsed to within an inch of its life throughout the year by sheep, so I hope that an oasis of scrub woodland might add some conservation value. The trees were sourced quite cheaply from a forester contact since it is obviously getting late to be planting, but a mix of birch and rowan will easily be capable of dealing with the hostile growing conditions created where bracken rises and falls five feet each year like a monstrous tide.
Some people have commented on this blog that much of the work I am doing is eligible for state funding – it is, and I am as keen as the next man to allow the government to pay for black grouse conservation, but I am constantly amazed how reluctant some people are to do anything at all unless they are fully compensated and repaid by the taxpayer. Much of the work I do on this blog (including buying these trees, guards and stakes) is paid for by money from my own pocket because I see no reason why anyone else should pay for it. This wood has only cost me a couple of hundred pounds and it will benefit this area of the farm. Simple, and cheap at the price.
When I have told other local famers and landowners about my work, they’ve asked what grant scheme allows me to do this and that. When I’ve told them that I pay for things like this myself, they almost laugh in my face, and I have to wonder about a grant system that has become so all-consuming that the very idea of reaching into your own pocket to fund improvement and alteration has become a punchline. I have been told by a local farmer that he wouldn’t even put a fencepost in the ground to fix a field boundary until the subsidy cheque had cleared. This is hardly my idea of land ownership, and while there is every reason to engage with the grants system for large scale, expensive or long terms projects, I am proud that little odd-jobs and chores here and there are my responsibility, and I will use my own initiative and finance (modest as it is) to get them done.
I’m already looking forward to walking it out with gun and dog.