This past year has seen some significant milestones reached. The Euston Estates plantation produced some impressive growth metrics in excess of 4 metres over the 2023 season. In addition, we have successfully planted a further 188 hectares of Phoenix One® over June, July and early August, with minimal losses.
This year’s growing season (April to October) had a very different feel to it compared to last year. We were not able to get onto the land with machinery until late March given the rainfall in the early part of the year. Each tree was analysed by our team and either pruned or technically cut. The pruning process begins once leaders start to develop at the top of the tree, at which point the stronger of two or three shoots is selected and the rest of the shoots removed. This allows the tree to grow straight and knot free. A technical cut involves cutting the whole tree back to 1 inch above the ground. It seems counterintuitive but is necessary for trees that have developed curved trunks. The other reason is to promote growth. We technically cut a large number of dormant trees at Euston Estates under guidance from WeGrow (the supplier and consultant for our trees) which has proved to be very successful and has undoubtedly promoted a healthy growth season under challenging weather conditions.
As the season progressed, we established biodiversity strips within the 4 metre rows of trees leading to a superb array of flora and fauna which would not have been allowed under the previous intensive farming regime. The Phoenix One®, having successfully established itself last year, started to grow up from the understory, allowing nature to flourish around the Euston Estates plantation. Spores from flowering plants, including poppies, which have lain dormant for up to 50 years, have finally been able to bounce back into life this year. This in turn has attracted more insects – the glue of the natural ecosystem. It has been a very exciting development within the emerging woodland we have created.
Seed bank at Euston Estate from March to September
The 33,000 native woodland trees planted at Euston Estates in December 2022 have established themselves well over a period of mixed weather conditions. We lost fewer than 10% (better than typical establishment rates) and these will be replaced over the coming winter. These trees have been planted in areas to provide a buffer to the ancient woodland on the Estate. In addition, they also serve as an excellent backdrop to the faster growing Paulownia variety. It is worth noting here that the Paulownia captures carbon at up to 7 times the rate of the native mix, with their large leaf development acting as natural solar panels.
At this year’s new plantation sites, Hockwold Fen, South Pickenham, Westacre and Young, we established the Phoenix One® in a slightly different way by planting a clover, pollinating grass mix ahead of time, giving the biodiversity mix a head start. Phoenix One® has thrived within this environment. Potential larger competition, like fat hen, has been suppressed. Furthermore, the composition of the soil at Hockwold Fen, for example, is more sandy, which supports root formation of Phoenix One® but requires the newly-sown grass to hold nutrients within the soil.
Biodiversity at Hockwold Fen and Euston Estate
Once the grass was established, we set about introducing the infrastructure of Forestry Commission approved fencing to protect the plantation against herds of deer and such like. We then laid the drip line irrigation, setting the framework for planting in a 3 by 4 metre diamond-grid, as done previously at Euston Estates.
We spent more time this season mowing a small strip either side of the Phoenix One® rows across all sites. This has given the trees more light and less competition whilst still allowing the inter-row biodiversity strip to blossom. The impact has been very insightful. We will be mowing out the 4 metre strips ahead of winter to provide a head start for the Phoenix One trees’ growth season next year.
We have a commitment not to waste scarce natural resources like water and this year have used 50% less water than in 2022 thanks to our efficient drip irrigation system. There have of course been totally different weather patterns and it’s interesting to note that our Phoenix One® at Euston Estate achieved faster growth rates during the warmer September period (although this could not completely replicate the longer daylight hours of June and July).
Forestry Commission visit
In September, we hosted a visit from the Board, Executive and regional team of the Forestry Commission at Euston Estates, a team of 36 in total. It proved to be a very successful event and has further strengthened our relationship. They were particularly impressed by the growth of Phoenix One® and the biodiversity gains.
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Directors of Carbon Plantations
October 3rd 2023