Tree Planting

The archetypal ‘conservation’ task, but not actually one that we do that often. After the hurricane of 1987, Britain woke up to a radically changed landscape, and a great deal of effort was put into replacing the lost trees. In some cases, the trees would have regenerated as quickly (and much more cheaply) on their own. Trees have also been planted inappropriately – on wetlands or heaths where an open habitat would have been preferable. That said, planting trees is usually worthwhile and it will be wonderfully satisfying to go back and visit the results in five, ten or fifteen years (as long as someone has been along to water, weed, loosen ties and generally administer some loving care).

Once planted, if there are rabbits, deer or small boys around, trees will need to be protected. The guards, stakes and tree ties usually cost more in a planting than the trees themselves. They also need to be checked periodically to make sure the tree isn’t being killed by its own protection.

Construction Tasks

Summer tasks tend to be construction – stiles, boardwalks, even picnic tables. Some of them have an intrinsic conservation value – we built a tern nesting platform for a gravel pit by the M25, and boardwalks can prevent footpath erosion – but mainly they are to improve facilities for the public. Good dry footpaths, steps, gates and stiles help everyone access and appreciate the countryside and open spaces we have left.

Pond Tasks

Ponds can have great conservation value but they tend to need regular maintenance if they are not to succumb to succession or get taken over by invasive weeds or algae. Several of our sites are home to Great Crested Newts which are the most endangered and protected of Britain’s three newt species. They require deep ponds, and some open water, so reed mace has to be removed periodically, and willows prevented from encroaching the pond. In urban areas, pond work may involve more mundane tasks like pulling out the odd shopping trolley, bike or other detritus.


Perhaps the most technically difficult of our tasks but one which, if done well, and if we have been given a decent hedge to work with, can also be the most satisfying to do.

Hedges have been used as boundaries for centuries in Britain, and laying them helps render them stock-proof. The invention of barbed wire and electric fencing has largely made laid hedges redundant for farming purposes but the thick hedge base which results from a laid hedge makes them valuable wildlife corridors and shelters for all manner of birds and other animals. To a bird, a hedge is like a woodland edge, and edges are always valuable habitats. Laying the hedge also keeps it young, preventing the larger trees from growing away and shading out the smaller hawthorns and blackthorns that birds love.

To lay a hedge, the ideal is for the trees and bushes to be about the thickness of a man’s wrist, and nice and densely planted. Hawthorn and blackthorn make good hedges but can be hard (and spiky) to work with. Hazel is nice and flexible and very forgiving to lay. Elder can’t be laid – its hollow stems mean it can’t sustain being sawn almost through, so any elder should be left upright as a standard, or removed from the hedge altogether. Most other trees can be laid at a pinch.


Coppicing – cutting trees down hard to the ground to promote multi-stemmed growth – can be indistinguishable to the naked eye from plain old cutting down trees. This is one of the tasks where we often get a lot of adverse (or merely baffled) comment from the public. Coppicing, mainly of hazel, was traditionally practiced for years in the country side to provide a ready source of fuel, hedgelaying stakes and withies for hurdles and bindings. A coppice with a yearly rotation of cutting provides a wide variety of habitats for birds and insects. For a clear explanation and demonstration of coppicing try this site.

Rhododendron bashing

Rhododendrons were extremely popular among the Victorians and, while not doubt lovely in its native Himalayas, Rhododendron, and more specifically Rhododendron ponticum has become a pest in U.K. Woodlands. It spreads rapidly – both by sideways branching and through its windborne seeds – and once established shades out all ground cover, preventing natural regeneration of woodlands and suppressing the bluebells and other woodland floor flora. It is poisonous, and supports no native wildlife (although to be fair to the beast, we did once see a long-tail tit nest in one).

It is also a stubborn opponent. Bashing usually involves cutting the bushes (or in extreme cases trees) down to stumps so that regrowth can be killed in the next growing season by the application of a mixture of weedkiller and diesel. Sometimes we can winch the stumps out which at least gives the feeling of killing it off for good. The brash can be burnt, piled or chipped, but the chipped remains are poisonous if left to rot down on the woodland floor and should be carted away. The chippings do make a good path surface, where the poisonous nature is actually beneficial as it suppresses weed growth.

Laurel bashing

Laurel is slightly less stubborn than rhododendron but can be as invasive. Allegedly introduced by the Romans for their victory wreaths, and adopted by the Victorians for their shrubberies and as game cover, Laurel can quickly take over a woodland, smothering natural regeneration and native undergrowth. Bashing Laurel uses the same techniques as for rhododendron.

Bashing in General

Rhododendron and Laurel are not native to Britain, and tend to be invasive pests wherever they are, but sometimes we are called to remove plants which are generally considered to be the ‘good guys’. Just as weeds are merely flowers in the wrong place, sometimes brambles, scots pine, even oaks have to be removed. Small ponds can easily revert to bogs if the willows are allowed to take over; heaths can get taken over by trees if they aren’t grazed.