Hawksheath Plantation alias Richard's Wood

 

Richard Ellis

 North Craven 
 Heritage Trust 

There was a substantial woodland shown in green on the 1927 O.S. map at Keasden and on later maps it was known a Hawksheath Plantation. The accompanying photograph was taken in the late 1940s and the trees were felled about 1953.

Why Grow Trees not Cabbages

There are a number of reasons: scientific, environmental and aesthetic. Firstly (and briefly) lets consider the science. All vegetation contains carbon and plants extract carbon from the atmosphere which contains a very low percentage of carbon dioxide (CO2). The concentration of CO2 is 0.036% with oxygen around 21% and nitrogen 78%. The CO2 is extracted from the atmosphere by plants and combined with water in the process known as photosynthesis to form sugars from which the plant structure is formed. Recently the CO2 level in the atmosphere has been rising due presumably to burning stores of carbon contained in fossil fuels such as coal and oil, and also large areas of equatorial afforestation have been burned. Now why is this bad? Well CO2 is a heavy gas much heavier than either oxygen or nitrogen and so it hangs around the earth's surface. But more importantly it acts as a gigantic duvet and stops the natural radiation of infra red energy from the earth into space. So when the CO2 rises the average temperature of earth's surface rises the so-called "greenhouse effect". When the earth gets hotter the ice caps melt more quickly and the sea level rises; bad news for Bangladesh and the Netherlands! But why trees and not cabbages I can hear you ask? Well, its true that for a given area in a given time cabbages (or wheat or any other crop including grass) will lock up more carbon than trees. But within a year all the carbon is released from the cabbages in the form of CO2 because they will have been eaten digested and metabolised by animals. No, the only way to lock carbon up for a long time is to incorporate it in trees which have a long life in themselves as well as in the structural timber derived from them. Next let's consider the environmental benefits of growing trees. There is more of a contrary argument here because land used for tree growing will lose some of the grassland flora and fauna especially if wet areas are drained. For example mosses, cotton grasses and reeds will be reduced and bird life such as curlew and plover which nest in grassland will be forced out. However there should be a net gain due to the increased population of small mammals and an increase in the variety of bird life following an increase in insect population.

Lastly, aesthetics. This is personal, but for me there is nothing more beautiful than a small broad-leafed wood which reflects so delicately the changes of weather and seasons. I would not claim the same for monotonous single species conifer woodland especially when planted in rows! - uninviting and drab. There is one further argument for growing trees and that is commercial. Obviously trees have value but this is species specific. More of this later.

Where to grow

Two years ago a local farmer retired and offered me 15 acres (5.37 ha) of rough grazing adjacent to Hawksheath Farm House which we have owned for 33 years. The land rises steeply from the farmyard, and to enter the grazing it is necessary to cross a beck which is identified as Thorny Gill on the OS map. On the west of the area there is an old stone wall and then open unpolluted moorland. To the north is the farmyard, and to the east are the beck and an old fence and beyond that a sheep pasture. The southern boundary is newly fenced but the fence follows a sporadic line of mature and wind shaped hawthorns which are growing on the southern edge of an obvious embankment and ditch. The land is between 750 and 800 ft above sea level and is on the lee of Burnmoor and so is protected from west and southwest winds which are prevalent in the summer months. The area is remarkably varied. Some ground is boggy with thick mosses, some is grassy overlying peat, there are old drainage ditches filled with juncas grass and there is open running water. In the SW part there are a number of mature sessile oak and towards the moor there are 6 mature Norwegian spruce. Across the whole area are tree stumps of oak and pine which I believe were felled in the 1940s.

What to grow

The Forestry Commission offered some support and suggested a species list. Their selection was based on the exclusive use of trees with northern provenance (i.e. trees indigenous to the North of England, and trees grown in the north). They assessed the area would support 6000 trees initially but this number would be progressively reduced as the trees became mature. We agreed the wood should be largely oak and birch and that the species should be randomly distributed but tending towards clumps of similar species as would be found in natural woodland. The Scots pine was selected because it was known to grow well in the vicinity and would provide a good nursery crop for the broad leafs. It is envisaged that in 10 years these will probably be culled. However they do have value as a structural timber and for posts as well as firewood.

The major crop is the sessile oak. Sessile was chosen because the mature oak on the site are sessile. I am not convinced that this was a correct decision because the English oak grows better in the north in some places. However this crop is for the distant future and hopefully it will be used almost exclusively for structural purposes. Mature oak carry a huge variety of fauna.

The common ash has value as a structural timber but is fairly slow growing. The ash that have been planted in the vicinity over the last 10 years have done well. Birch was a natural choice as they grow well in the vicinity and have a dense foliage which provides wind protection for more delicate species.

The following species and percentages were agreed:

Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris) 9%

Sessile oak (Quercus petraea) 30%

Downy birch (Betula pubescens)15%

Silver birch (Betula pendula) 10%

Common ash (Fraxinus excelsior) 7%

Rowan (Sorbus acuparia) 6%

Common alder (Alnus glutinosa) 3%

Goat willow (Salix caprea) 3%

Bay willow (Salix pentandra)2%

Holly (Ilex aquifolium) 2%

Hawthorn (Crateagus monogyna) 2%

Hazel (Corylus avellana) 11%

The value of the timber is limited but is an extremely vigorous firewood. The common alder should grow well in the wetter areas. As a timber it has great value in producing charcoal, and is used in the clog-making industry. The willows will need to be coppiced at 5 yearly intervals to produce a crop of fronds which are used in basket weaving. Likewise the hazel will need to be coppiced if fencing material is required. Hazel interwoven fencing seems to becoming more popular. The other obvious use for hazel is as a producer of nuts. I have a secret wish to reintroduce red squirrels into Keasden in a few years when the hazels have started fruiting. I can think of no very sensible use for rowan, holly or quickthorn except they are all very beautiful berry producers, and provide food for birds.

Planting

In Yorkshire trees can be planted from mid November to the end of March. Generally January and February are too cold with frozen ground and potentially severe night frosts. My first batch of 2000 was planted in March 2000 - a very bleak month at Hawksheath with strong winds and heavy snow, but little frost. The second batch of 2000 was planted in mid December 2000 just before the first frost and snow arrived at Christmas.

It is possible to keep trees in planting bags with a tight string around the neck for several weeks. It is better to avoid even a mild frost and it is necessary to keep the roots moist. If planting is likely to be delayed it is better to heel the roots in, though 2000 trees would require a lot of ground preparation. The average experienced tree planter seems to be able to plant 100 to 120 trees a day depending on the terrain. The first batch was largely planted by Paul Fawcett (of Landcare), and took the whole month of March. The second batch took 4-5 people 5 days, and so they achieved roughly the same rate. The sizes of the plants vary according to the species. The largest were the oak at 60-90 cm. As birch and willow is so vigorous smaller plants were selected, namely 40-60 cm., though for an experiment the goat willow in the first batch were all cuttings and it will be interesting to see how they fare compared with the rooted plants of the second batch. The hazel were the largest I could find because I suspected they would have the most difficulty in becoming established. The Scots pine were the smallest available as we considered they would be slow starters and more vulnerable to wind. The rowan, thorn, ash and alder were all 40 - 60 cm and the holly were all individually potted, and as a consequence were much more expensive. Before a tree is planted, a reasonable site is chosen and the top vegetation is skreefed with a mattock. This results in a rectangular area of cleared earth into which a planting spade (a special tool) is pushed. The spade is worked to produce a wide slit into which the roots are eased using the point of the spade to tuck the deepest roots as far down as possible. The slit is then closed firmly with the heel and the tree is checked to make sure the root/stem junction is just under the surface.

All the trees had protection against animals. The easiest protection to erect is the plastic tube which is attached to an adjacent wooden stake. We used 75 cm tubes and 1.2 metre tubes. Similarly we use nets of the same lengths for roughly half of the plants, and the smaller of these were held in place with 2 canes and the longer with a wooden stake. The longer tubes and nets were used for the oak and ash to preserve apical dominance.

The disadvantage of tube protection is that the tree grows rapidly but the stem remains weak and often breaks when the crown of the tree emerges from the top of the tube. These trees are sometimes referred to as lollipops for obvious reasons. On the other hand the nets do not encourage growth, but the growing tree becomes wind strengthened and is therefore less likely to snap. Why use protection? If the plantation were to be invaded by sheep (sadly a less likely happening now) a huge amount of damage would be done and most trees lost. Likewise if roe deer visit and there is a sizeable herd of roe deer in Keasden bottom a similar disaster would ensue. 75 cm protection is enough for sheep, rabbits and hares (very damaging in the winter and spring), but 1.2 metre protection is necessary for the deer. If red deer appear then...! The tubes keep the voles out usually, though the warm tube must provide a very comfortable place for a vole to make its nest!

The final act is to chemically kill the vegetation in a square metre area around the tree. This has to be repeated yearly for 3 years. This is the only part of the process that I find disturbing, But the Forestry Commission insists on it and it does apparently increase early growth which is so crucial.

And finally

Well, it's been a rapid learning curve for me. The first batch was awarded an A+ by the Forestry Commission, but I doubt if the second batch will be as successful. The view from the top of the wood - I can now call it a wood - is stunning looking directly over to Ingleborough in the north and Pen y Ghent in the northeast. The Lake District mountains are clearly visible in the west (I can just discern the outline of Gimmer Crag and remember F Route!) So far it's all been very rewarding and is something special to leave for the next generation or two, or three!

Hawksheath Farm, Keasden. April 2001

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Front door lintels were the ones with dates. Diana has marked the position of this front door lintel on her plan of 1672.
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Hawksheath plantation in the late 1940s
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This back door 1672 is known to be the companion to its front door because they both show related designs.


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Hawksheath plantation in the late 1940s
Photo: Collection of Price family