It’s been far too long since we updated you with progress with ReforestNation – and there’s been some good reason for that. When the project launched a few years ago, it was with big plans, grand ambitions, and a big splash on social media with our first crowd-funding campaign. And whilst we’ve had some success, it’s also been a very steep learning curve, with some pretty big setbacks and challenges. We are finally feeling like things are rolling again, there’s some really great news to report, and that it’s time to start thinking big for this project – which is why it feels like time to update you all.
First, let’s be honest about what didn’t work.
In our first crowd-funding campaign, we managed to raise £5,000, most of which was spent on a mobile sawmill, with the intention that this would allow us to mill our own wood, to make and sell cabins and huts, to create work and more funds to put towards purchasing land to reforest.
Well, the mill has proved useful for a couple of projects – helping to complete a cabin in the woods, a wooden playground, and constructing a very beautiful bent wood poly-tunnel – the first one ever, we believe!
But the economics of milling wood with a sawmill rig – which is slow, time-consuming and fuel hungry – never really made sense. We found that, even if Simon Colley was gifting us the sitka trees from his land, the labour cost involved in producing boards and battens still made it a more expensive way to produce wood than buying seasoned timber in – and certainly, we couldn’t find a way of competing with commercial hut and shed kits, which are astonishingly cheap.
It still feels like the mill might come into it’s own later, when we have a really remote site, and where we might have funding or more resources to build a beautiful rustic cabin (or cabins) in the woods. In fact, the curved, viking long-house shape of the poly-tunnel would make a fabulous and unique cabin, if clad and insulated, and given reclaimed doors and windows.
In fact, perhaps you are reading this and thinking “Hey! I’d love a cabin like that!” If that’s you, and if you are willing to pay a good price for something that’s beautiful and made by hand by people with skills and integrity, rather than something that’s been milled in a factory and flat-packed – then drop us a line on firstname.lastname@example.org
But for now, my gut tells me that the mill isn’t not going to generate the resources the project needs.
And what are those resources?
- Land to reforest and re-wild.
- Saplings to plant.
- Funds to pay for deer fencing, tree guards, and some labour costs.
- People to help plant, protect and collaborate with – and re-wild.
- Experience and skills. Learnt the hard way!
So onto some of the successes of the project so far, which are about balancing all of these resources.
Land. We effectively now have two sites that are being reforested or re-wilded – Simon’s woodland near Wiston in South Lanarkshire, which he continues to slowly and organically convert to a mixed deciduous woodland – and the 47 acres of rough grazing land at Netherton.
At the latter, we have planted over 1,600 trees, mostly from the Woodland Trust, but also a significant number which we have grown ourselves from seed – mostly Scots Pine and Oak, but also some Alder, Silver Birch, Rowan and Hawthorn. We’ll be adding four ponds to the land which will add bio-diversity, and a larger swimming pond for wild swimming.
In the long-run, the land at Netherton has the potential to also be a multi-functional base for the project – it has two building plots for eco-houses, and two old barns, one of which we’ve been renovating, which could provide accommodation, office and workshop space, and the land and new woodland could provide space for growing food – both permaculture gardens, forest gardens and wild-food production. We’d like people to be able to come and camp/glamp, and to experience courses in woodland crafts, bushcraft skills, and to be able to see the land develop and re-wild over the years – and in the process, get a bit wilder themselves.
People. We have another tree planting weekend with friends and family coming up in a couple of weeks, but it’s next year when the big effort will take place, when we’ll plant about 10,000 trees on the land at Netherton. That is planned for late-winter, after we have deer fenced the area for the new woodland. We’ve been building towards that for a while, but finding the funds to do it took some time.
We also wanted to feel confident about planting larger numbers of trees swiftly and efficiently, and it took time to put together a competent tree planting team, headed by Catherine and Simon.
Hey! If you’d like to get involved in the physical work of tree planting, drop us a line. We need strong, fit individuals to come and help! Email email@example.com
Experience. We’ve learnt something from each tree planting phase, and the survival rate for the trees from the last planting we did is over 95% – so we feel it’s been wise to have some smaller practice runs before the larger planting. In coming years I hope that planting 10,000 trees seems like it was training for really, really big tree planting schemes of hundreds of thousands of trees. But that’s another story, for another post. If I’ve learnt anything in the last three years, it’s that reforesting and land restoration takes time and patience – a tough lesson for someone who was a journalist, and used to quick results.
Perhaps for that reason, I feel like my favourite symbol for this project is the acorn, and my favourite pastime at this time of year is collecting them. So much stored potential in one small, beautiful object – so much patience and love required to make it achieve it.
Skills. I’m particularly proud of learning about seed collection and propagation, and how much success I’ve had at this, and how emotionally satisfying and creative it has felt to collect wild seed, to store it through the winter, and then successfully grow baby trees. Receiving tree packs with two year old saplings from the Woodland Trust is undoubtedly efficient, and for large scale planting these tree plugs produced by big industrial scale nurseries are invaluable and cheap. But learning how and when to collect the different seeds – becoming attuned to the timing and rhythm of the seasons – adds an emotional and spiritual dimension to re-wilding land. It creates a story when you gather acorns from a particular tree, grow them, and then plant them. It creates a direct connection between you and that land
This year, for example, I managed to gather perhaps 15 kilos of acorns in just a few days, far more than last year, because I was attuned to the season, and to the weather. I could see that the acorns were starting to fall in small numbers – and when a particularly windy day hit the area, I knew that was when I needed to get out collecting. And I know how best to store them over the winter this year (last year I lost a lot of acorns to rodents.)
So, right now I have about 100 oaks growing in my small nursery, along with 50 silver birch, and some Rowan and Scots Pine. I have perhaps over a thousand acorns stored safely for propagation next spring, and a good seed store of perhaps another 10 tree species. And all of that has been done with a minimum of funds, just some bags of compost, and the time spent collecting seeds and acorns – which is something I love. At the same time, Simon continues to grow saplings on his land in South Lanarkshire.
So, what next? Well, right now we are waiting on a few things to fall into place. We have submitted an application for some grant funding to help us cover some (but not all) of the cost of planting the 15 acres of new woodland. We are expecting that to be confirmed in December. That will allow us to start deer fencing in January, following by planting in February. We have nearly finished renovating an old Nissen Hut on the land to make it suitable as a base for friends and family to help out with the tree planting, and a new access road is being built to it right now.
The barn is great – a cosy space with a stove to get warm after hours spent out planting in all weathers. Some folk camping, some music in the evenings – we aim to have some fun with the planting! In fact, I think we’ve realised that it’s essential. The thing about the land at Netherton is that you can feel, deep in your bones, that this land has been neglected and unloved for a long time. Perhaps that’s more obvious to me now that we have spent a year in the eco-village in Findhorn, where every inch of nature, every tree, is given enormous attention (perhaps too much attention!)
But the land at Netherton really needs people to bring it back to life – people that can see its potential, and help it achieve it. And I think that’s probably true of a lot of land in the rest of Scotland too, particularly in the north – and particularly in areas like Sutherland where the land was brutally cleared of people, and where the populations have never really recovered.
In fact, writing this makes me realise that there is a sixth resource that a land restoration project needs to be successful, a missing X-factor – love. Degraded land is unloved land, and without thoughtful human attention and care, I don’t think it can achieve it’s full potential. Yes, given enough time, and left it’s own devises, nature can do amazing things.
But in Scotland it is clear that we are not willing or able to allow nature to take it’s course – for example, we do not allow the return of apex predators like wolves who would keep deer populations in check. So, in my mind, we need the presence of thoughtful, engaged, creative humans with a love for nature if we are to restore degraded land, and to reforest. That feels like the core of what this project, ReforestNation, is meant to be, and is hopefully an idea that can be scaled up.
I’m also hinting here at the seed (or acorn) of a very ambitious idea that I’ve had in storage for some time, but one that I’m starting to share with a few people – potential collaborators, potential investors, potential re-wilders. More about that another time.
Before that larger project germinates, we are starting to look for another potential site to reforest around Scotland – and looking for more good people to get involved. I would like the next site we work on to be larger than Netherton, but not intimidating – between 100 and 500 acres – and either somewhere near to our current bases (Penicuik and Wiston) or in the North, either Moray, or the West Coast. If you hear of something interesting that might fit the bill, on or off the market, please let us know.
I’m also hoping that one of the plans I’ve been developing will allow more people to own their own small woodland one day without having to pay the kind of prices that are charged for small amenity woodlands. Again, more about that in a future post when the idea is fully developed.
So for now, if you are interested in getting involved, in collaborating, in connecting, in contributing funds, or in helping with the physical work of tree planting, fencing, and looking after saplings, please do get in touch!
You can email us – firstname.lastname@example.org – or call 07967 28043, or write to us at 62 The Park, Findhorn Foundation, Moray. IV36 3TZ. We’d love to hear from you 🙂