Updated 11 May 2007

Planting a new oakwood in Dorset

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This article was written on 8 May 2007 for the Local branch of International Tree Foundation magazine, published in August. At the time, the future was of course unknowable and the past 6 months was rather astonishing. The relief at seeing green leaves appear on every sapling that had been flooded for so long, was immense.

    Budburst 2007

    What an amazing 6 months we've had! The first 4 months had 600 mm of rain (24 inches) and the River Stour flooded 3 times.
    The following 2 months only had 17 mm (2/3 inch) and the river has dropped 192 cms (over 6 feet).
    Three times my oak plantation has been flooded, and for most of the wet 4 months the roots of the 6 year old saplings have been under water. How has this affected my little oaks? The text books said: "saturated roots for over 2 weeks and the trees will start to die from lack of oxygen". But there are 3 mature oaks in the hedgerows round the plantation, they must have survived over 200 floods in their lifetime, and many wet winters. I was worried, but quietly confident in Nature.

    When spring finally came, I went to look at sapling K6 almost every day. Last year K6 was first to leaf among the 258 oaklings, the first little green leaf showing on 5th May. Joy of joys, K6 was first again this year, showing budburst on 13 April, over 3 weeks earlier than last year.

    Oak budburst 2007
    Oak budburst 2006

    But how many oaklings had been lost? On May Day I had my answer. None! In 17 days, the green tide of new life had touched every tree, and 257 oaklings had leafed. Only X2 was still looking dead, but it was the same last year. We gave X2 up for dead then and it finally proved us wrong.

    What does the coming summer hold? Many people are predicting hot and dry. The oak is out well before the ash. The plantation has grass and rich soil on clay, which dries out and cracks. Last year there were 5 months of hot drought. The water table dropped by 160 cms (over 5 feet) between March and October. By June, the ground water level was below the nearby river.

    But those little oaks are tough. They survived last summer's drought and this winter's soaking. Today they are covered in light green leaves. Their parent in Sherwood Forest has seen 1,000 budbursts. My bet is they'll be around a lot longer than me.

    John Palmer, Dorset branch.
    10 May 2007.

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