Felix began planting trees in the late 1990s, and has since cemented his passion for British forestry by setting up The Heart of England Forest Limited charity, dedicated to planting a substantial native broadleaf forest in Warwickshire. Felix often makes a personal donation to the charity and between his personal country estate and The Heart of England Forest, over 1,874 acres of woodland have now been planted. Planting proceeds at the rate of approximately 300 acres per year. In the summer of 2013, the Forest hit a major mile-stone which was the 1 millionth tree. By the end of the planting season in March 2014, another 100,000 were planted.
Each year we plant in the region of 100 hectares of new woodland comprised of native broadleaved trees. We structure the species mix to mimic the local dominant woodland type as set out by the National Vegetation Communities (NVC) woodland classifications, which are W8 or W10 for our area. Both are lowland broadleaved woodlands with ash or oak the dominant species respectively. These woodland types refer to mature woodland and include ground flora as part of the classification description. We cannot, of course, create all aspects of a mature woodland but aim to plant the major and minor tree species in suitable proportions to kick start the process and allow the woodlands to develop naturally and take on a character of their own.
Major tree species for our area are; English oak and ash. Minor tree species include; sessile oak, birch, small leaved lime, field maple, cherry, hornbeam, aspen, sweet chestnut, rowan, whitebeam and willows.
Our woodlands are designed with a high proportion of open space in the form of wide rides between woodland blocks. These rides are typically 10 to 15 metres wide with additional more open areas up to 50 metres across. Wild flower meadow species have been sown in the open areas to increase diversity and aesthetic quality.
The trees are planted at a density of 1080 per hectare in a random pattern between 1 and 6 metres apart. We do not plant large groups of single species except for coppice areas. However, where the ground is wet or free draining we plant a higher proportion of tree suited to that particular ground condition.
We use trees grown from local provenance seed sources but also collect and grow on our own seed from the estate. The trees are planted as bare root whips up to 60cm high usually about two years old.
Our planting season starts in mid November and continues until the following March.
Trees are protected from rabbit and deer damage by either 1.2 metre plastic tubes or 75cm plastic spirals, the latter is also further protected by a 1.8 metre high fenced perimeter to exclude deer.
We maintain the trees annually and more intensively in the first few years. Work includes maintaining a weed free area around each tree, loss assessment and replacement of trees where necessary and straightening of trees guards where they have blown over in the wind. We also regularly inspect for the detrimental effects to trees from deer, rabbits, hares, voles, insects and noxious weeds. Where we can have an influence we do take measures of control.
Following the first few years where possible we remove guards. This more commonly occurs to the faster growing trees such as aspen, willow, cherry and birch.
The management of the open space is less intensive and currently involves mowing the rides to create 3 metre wide tracks twice a year – early July and October- and where possible we cut and remove the vegetation from the wider open space. The removal of the cut material will gradually lower the nutrient levels of the soil making it more suitable to wild flower species.
We welcome natural regeneration of trees within our woodlands and respond positively where it occurs. A hedgerow tree is the usual seed source and nearly always happens near ash trees, field maple and to a lesser extent around oak. Oak regeneration is unusual in that it can occur just about anywhere in the woodland, probably dropped or buried by corvids (jays, crows, magpies, etc) or squirrels.
For further information about the Heart of England Forest, please visit: www.heartofenglandforest.com