I found January hard, really quite hard. It wasn’t just work stress or post-Christmas blues, while related to the “Blue Monday” type feel of this time of year, my mind was doing something a little more sinister. This no doubt is left over from 2018 leaving us as a family of 3 not 4, with Christmas making this more obvious, and as a return to routine in January made no improvement I slipped back into a causative depression. Conversations with family and climbing with an old friend put me back in line somewhat, and I got on with things. Until this morning.
You could simply say I got out on the wrong side of bed, I couldn’t concentrate most of the day, then getting home I felt my mind slipping downwards. However, I have things to do. High on the list of things Fritha and I have spoken about doing at Whitelands in the past few months is getting some trees in the ground, to replace the ash we are losing to ash-die-back (Hymenoscyphus fraxineus). Another thing on the ‘to do list’ is a blog on minimum intervention management with links to my PhD for the Whiteland’s CIC blog, which is what you are reading (bear with me!).
I open the Whitelands Project emails in the evening to check up on our planting stuff and tree orders and land on a spam email for a small group’s newsletter (Barefoot Five) Dad must have subscribed to. This displays:
I am atheist but coincidences can be wonderful things. It also come with a playlist https://open.spotify.com/playlist/75Sg9FNweaeZw9Rh3Uf8nK#_=_ worth a listen).
I think of everything I have top of the to do list at the moment:
Fix my bike so I’m not driving so much and can emit less carbon, trying to write a proposal outlining our group’s ideas on improving humanity and sustaining its place in nature, planning the first major component of my PhD on how grassland management affects biodiversity and, right now (top, top of the list) getting a team of people to plant 200 trees this weekend. And alongside this maintaining a social life and try to find the time to climb things in nature, to stay sane.
Shit happens and when it happens it’s shit but I have shit to do.
Dad gave us an unwavering and inextinguishable passion for the natural world. This is the reason Frith and I are putting a lot of effort into maintaining Whitelands as best we can while we pursue our careers. We are trying our best to make some shred of difference to the natural world. This is hard, especially when both our careers have taken us far from home, but we will be keeping momentum, returning whenever we can.
The maintenance of a wood of course, largely revolves around its trees. A small woodland business in a small woodland will inevitably struggle with resourcing pressures for maintenance. For this reason, Dad always used what is best termed as a minimum intervention approach which we also continue. This has by some visitors been confused with rewilding; however, this is not what we are aiming for unless you are happy to make the RE part of RE-wilding stand for Restorative Ecology wilding. We also are not aiming for ‘wild’ as we make biodiversity our business- we aim to work with biodiversity not abandon it to its own devices.
So what do I mean by minimum intervention and restoration ecology? To give a quick definition of an entire field of study: restorative ecology refers to practice aimed at actively maintaining & restoring species and ecosystems to their natural state. This is certainly what we are aiming for, the overall health of the wood’s ecosystem in the light of ash-die-back (Hymenoscyphus fraxineus). Minimum intervention management, however, is more of a description of The Whitelands Project’s approach to forestry management. We have relied heavily on the natural regeneration of species already local to the wood, mainly ash and willow. In the light of our tree disease problem and with climate change already taking effect, relying on natural processes alone is not sufficient to maintain a woodland ecosystem. For this reason we allow trees to naturally regenerate, but are sure to shelter and clear around them when we find them, and, when we have the time and resources, we plant. By spring 2020 we hope to have got about 300 trees into the ground at Whitelands since the winter’s beginning in 2019.
A lot of the reading I have been doing for my PhD is on land management across the board. A common overriding theme within human impacted UK ecosystems is that some intervention can be beneficial. Imagine you are trying to graze sheep on a newly purchased piece of land it contains two types of field. One which was considered so poor by the old owner that it was never used and, the other type two, which was considered a profitable venture so was heavily seeded with a minimum number of productive species, fertilised and heavily grazed. The type one field will take a long time to naturally build up the nutrients and species accumulation to be a happy ecosystem. You could however seed in a few species and apply some green manures to increase biodiversity and soil nutrients to get it on its way to being a good natural self-sustaining field for keeping sheep and biodiversity.
For field type two the highly productive species dominate taking advantage of the fertilised soils. This fertility will however disperse to potentially become polluting and leave the field with few species left able to cope just like type one. Cutting the productive species and composting the cuttings (perhaps for field type one’s green manure) will gradually reduce the fertility and then give good conditions for seeding extra species into the type two fields. This minimum intervention style practice (cutting, seeding and spreading a few times a year) would bring both field types to a similar self-sustaining state for happy sheep and happy biodiversity.
At Whitelands we are trying to achieve this relatively self-sustaining state of the natural ecosystem which we can help along and utilise as we go. In grasslands (as I discuss in my PhD), minimum intervention approaches can take 3 to 10 years.. where as we are doing this in a woodland. Our timescale is the rest of our lives.