The phone call came through and there was a call to arms once we knew the first tranche of whips had safely passed through customs at Calais. 26,000 whips were arriving that evening on the first articulated lorry having been dispatched from Germany the day before. Once carefully unloaded, checked, hydrated and secured for the evening the race was on to manually plant them over the next 5 to 7 days in order to give the trees every chance to make a good start. Irrigation had been tested and, in some cases, running in advance of the planting. Every member of the Carbon Plantations Family had a role to play. For some of us, including myself, the laptop was put aside, left on charge, and replaced with connectors, cutters, reels of piping and a spade. This was going to be an exciting experience!
Planting on the Austins Fields
The next day, bright skies heralded a 7am morning meeting at the farmyard led by the Estate and Forestry Manager and our project consultant. The work streams were set and the challenge to plant 10,000 whips a day were laid down. Risk assessments were applied. Four blocks of field had already been set and the planters were to start on block 8, where the bed forming, infrastructure and irrigation lines had been put in place. Each tree would be planted by hand 3 metres apart as indicated by the middle of three marked drippers on the irrigation pipe. Each row had been previously bed formed 4 metres apart. A matrix of trees in diagonal formation would soon be mapped across the field. The adrenalin was building as nine experienced tree planters (used to more challenging geography), began their journey up the rows, each supplied by whips to be planted, delivered by quad bike and trailer and laid along the rows.
Tree whips on a trailer ready to be planted
Down the road in block 5, myself and two farm workers were already mapping out the drip irrigation on Article Hill. We marked the first tree to each row, using a 4 by 3 metre wooden triangle, and in turn laid the irrigation line at low speed on a quad bike. Each irrigation line would be attached to the main header pipe, that was previously dug in and was itself was attached to the irrigation system, housed in a purpose-built shed - one for each block. Two spools of 500m irrigation piping was carefully laid across consecutive rows pulled by a quad bike (as seen in the photo). The 4 metre gap between the rows helped give the direction. And then back for the next two rows… And repeat over 1,000 times. 10 hectares could be laid in a day, whilst ensuring that all joins were secure and checked to avoid leakage.
Ahead of this work stream in the next field, our Estate Manager was taking full advantage of the GPS system and a state-of-the-art bed former attached to his tractor to form the slightly raised beds at 4 metre gaps. The aim for the irrigation-laying ‘gang’ was to keep pace with the tractor, albeit a field behind.
As the five days progressed, we had an interesting development. The planters, having familiarised themselves with the task in hand for this particular tree, got faster and on day four had planted over 14,000 whips between them. They were well advanced with their side of the bargain! Ahead the irrigation lines were set and secured at both ends, then tested and the system turned as the drip of the water, providing moisture to the immediate surrounding area, awaited the arrival of the planting team.
By lunchtime on the fifth day, with a number of 12-14 hour days behind us, the task had been completed. All the work streams ended in the same field, as had been expected, as the final trees for this stage were being planted. The entire team with the support of the planters had put in a tremendous shift. The rewards were palpable. The trees were hydrated and ready to be fed with precise measurements of fertigation, via the irrigation system.
Three dripper markers per tree can be seen in this aerial shot
The days had been long and rewarding. Friends and colleagues had bonded. A few pounds in weight were lost along the way! Most importantly, 52,000 trees were beginning their journey of life in Suffolk, their new home.
Nigel Couch - Managing Director, Carbon Plantations, 10th June 2022