SAPLINGS AND SPADES: A WOODLAND RETURNS, by David Parkins. Published by Grosvenor House, available from Amazon and bookshops. £9.99. Softback. For a signed copy, contact the author (saplingsandspades@gmail.com): copies, priced £10, will be posted to UK addresses.

Spades

AS a young boy, the author witnessed bulldozers obliterating a forest to build a bypass. Decades later he resolved to replace those annihilated trees with another wood.

After taking early retirement from the police force due to a knee injury, David Parkins worked as a volunteer gardener at Wallington. This experience rekindled his love of trees and he resolved to replace those lost trees of his childhood by creating a new wood in Northumberland.

After a lengthy search for a suitable site that he could afford, he bought a 6½-acre field on Gorfenletch Farm north of Morpeth, and over the next decade acquired a further three acres of adjoining land. He soon discovered that there was vastly more to woodland establishment than just planting saplings.

Firstly he mapped out the streams, culverts and ponds vital to drainage of the site, which had originally been a pine plantation before being cleared to create pasture, and used an old shipping container as a works cabin and tool store.

After failing to qualify for a Forestry Commission woodland establishment grant, he ploughed his own money into buying saplings, stakes and deer protection shelters. His initial plan was to plant 1,200 trees per acre every year for six years. Between 2002 and 2016 he planted over double that number of trees and spent eight years replacing sapling casualties from assorted causes, including damage to 400 saplings which had bark gnawed by a vole ‘plague’, ash die-back and oak fungus. But David was undeterred, claiming: “I am stoical in the face of tree diseases”.

His self-admitted ‘madcap notion’ was a mixture of triumphs and disasters. In total more than 20 tree species were successfully raised – some to be sold when mature as saw logs, others planted for their contribution to wildlife sustainability. His tree-planting skills improved year by year and now the wood, containing hedgerows, wildflower meadows and three restored ponds, attracts a variety of wildlife including barn owls, herons, oystercatchers, ducks, geese and roe deer.

Illustrated with aerial photographs, this is a must-read book for those wanting – or wondering what it is like – to plant a new wood of their own.