Kick-starting natural regeneration with UWE & TLT LLP
Spring seems to be fast approaching on the estate and many preparations are underway to prepare for the warmer weather and the busy summer of growth ahead. Our rewilding site, Watercress Farm has been especially productive in the past few weeks thanks to our volunteer days where we made great progress to kickstart the natural regeneration of the land.
While rewilding should become a fairly hands-off approach to land management often much can be done in the early stages to help shape the process. With land like that at Watercress that was formerly used for farming, nature’s influence has been diminished over time and so it can be helpful to take steps to strengthen or re-establish natural processes before allowing them to take over on their own.
uwe visit the rewilding project
At the start of February, we welcomed fifty Wildlife Ecology and Conservation Science students from the University of West of England to help us with species removal and replanting of native willow and wildflowers. The students immediately got stuck into digging up some young buddleia shrubs that were taking hold in the back fields. While buddleia is a helpful shrub for pollinators in contained garden spaces, it is somewhat invasive and will outcompete other shrubs in a large space like Watercress. By removing it we encourage a more diverse range of plants for pollinators to grow.
With the buddleia removed, we set about cutting and planting some willow whips that we took from a mature tree along the riverbank. Willow is an extremely good habitat for invertebrates and because it is plentiful and fast-growing we were able to slip plant it in high quantities knowing that not all of it needs to take in order for it to have a positive impact. Alongside this, some of the other student groups took to ‘wildflower seeding’ the fields. Where the pigs have rootled the ground and presented bare earth ultimately makes the perfect space for wildflower seeds to get a head start on the grass. This will be the start of a meadow on what was previously monoculture arable land.
TLT LLP join us for a volunteering day
At the end of February, forty employees from our corporate partners, TLT LLP joined us for a day kick-starting natural regeneration using a variety of trees, brambles and brash. It was a day of inspirational engagement, learning and positivity. The volunteers started this process by planting out bramble crowns in locations where the trees were going to be planted. Over these, we then gathered and piled up lots of branches and woodland waste known as brash. Throughout the summer the brambles will grow up through the brash and create an additional thorny barrier between the trees and the free-roaming animals. These brash piles are an alternative solution to plastic tree guards or cages, and even though they require a huge effort from everyone to gather together, move, and assemble; they are beneficial to the rewilding project in a way other tree protection is not.
The brash piles will not only be beneficial in protecting these young trees but also will provide immediate habitat for dormice and birds. In the autumn the blackberries from the brambles will be a helpful food source and in the future, as the brash rots, it will support a multitude of fungi.
In the natural world, all things work together so that the lives and labours of one organism can play a beneficial role to others. Learning from this we hope we can continue to pull together to restore this piece of wilderness and help one another while we are there.
“It was a thoroughly enjoyable and informative day. We learnt a lot about Belmont and why and how they are doing this rewilding project. The tasks we completed were really enjoyable and I would like to go back there on the next volunteering day. We felt like we made a real, in our small way, environmental impact.”Employee, TLT LLP
What species of trees did we plant and why?
- Silver Birch: This will suit the drier ground at Watercress and can play host to any of the 344 species that are known to feed on them. It also supports one of the most famous fungi, Fly Agaric, whose red body and white spots are so distinctive and recognisable.
- Downy Birch: This is rarer than other birch and grows with a more open canopy. As well as being particularly attractive to aphids, moths and other insects, it allows plants to grow beneath it on account of how much light it lets in. Once it matures it will provide excellent habitat for hole-nesting birds.
- Goat Willow: This will do well in wet or waterlogged ground. It is fast growing and should be able to cope with some browsing from cattle or deer. While their roots bind the soil and prevent erosion they are also great for pollinators providing an early source of nectar and when their leaves come out provide food for moths such as the Poplar Hawk Moth.
- Alder: Similar to the aforementioned Willow, it is suited to the wet environment and supports a huge range of insects. Over 140 plant-eating insects have been recorded on alder.
- Black Poplar: This is the rarest of all the trees planted, though it was once relatively common. There is only 7000 growing wild in Britain and they can live for 200 years. Again, like the rest of these trees, they will provide food and habitat for many invertebrates and birds.
Together we were able to achieve a massive amount, and between both volunteer groups, we should have a lasting positive impact on Watercress. Days like these cement the value of our partnerships. This is an example of like-minded businesses collaborating together to create meaningful change. By leveraging our collective resources and expertise, we can make a greater impact than we could do alone.
Until next time,
Bonnie, Estate Team