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Looking after trees, planting trees and dealing with trees 'past their sell-by date’.

January 17th, a glorious bright – but bitterly cold – day saw another eight volunteers from Marsh Insurance join us at West Beckham Old Allotments.

Those who arrived early were treated to the sight of a magnificent Goshawk sailing across just above tree height – a first record of this species at this reserve.

Once everyone had arrived, Trevor gave our visitors a guided tour of the site, explaining our habitat management programme and the consequent improvement in habitat and biodiversity. Then it was down to the hard graft of planting some whips (2–3-year-old saplings about 0.5-1.0 m tall). These had kindly been supplied by North Norfolk District Council. Although it was frosty, it was easy to get a spade through the top crispy layer of soil and the ground underneath was soft and damp, making it ideal for planting. The whips were planted into a slit, and the soil was firmed around them to ensure no water could penetrate and freeze the delicate root system. They were finished off with a cane to help them resist the wind and a spiral guard to protect them from peckish deer or rabbits. In total we planted about 150 trees, thickening up our two copses and creating a new area at the northern end of the central shelter belt.

The mid-morning break looked like it was going to be a disaster when we ran out of gas for our urn, and none was to be had in the area for love or money, but Carol and Ken came to our rescue with their camping stove, allowing us to provide hot water for tea and coffee to accompany the doughnuts supplied by Trevor and the home-made brownies brought by Liz, the organiser of the Marsh volunteers – delicious.

We then spent some time tending the trees we had planted back in the days of Covid lockdowns, clearing away any vegetation around the base of the saplings and checking that they were firmly rooted. A few had suffered from the recent buffeting winds, and were growing at strange angles, but were soon put to rights, with their canes firmed in, pointing skywards. We were thrilled to see how well these young trees are doing three years on, with very few losses, and a lot of growth put on since they first went into the ground.

After lunch – eaten in the sunshine by the pond – we tackled a fallen Hawthorn which was blocking the adjacent green lane as well as part of the old allotments. This proved quite a task, with masses of Ivy entwined among its branches. A combination of loppers, hand saws and bow saws enabled us to nibble away at the masses of Ivy until we could reach the limbs of the tree itself. Vast quantities of foliage and branches were carted to our growing heap of debris until we had finally reduced the tree back to the line of the hedgerow, where it can be allowed to rot in peace, creating a new habitat for invertebrates and fungi, while the Ivy will probably regenerate, providing late nectar for insects and berries for birds at a time when the berries from most species have already been eaten.

A big thank you goes to all the volunteers from Marsh, who worked enthusiastically all day to achieve an amazing amount. We look forward to welcoming them back soon.

Val Stubbs January 17th 2023


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