It has been a busy winter!
A total of 2,500 trees have been planted – mainly native oak, alder and birch. A section of over-stood hazel has been cleared in order to bring this area into a coppice rotation and new fences have been erected to protect all of this.
Donegal is known for it’s wild weather and barren hillsides, but there are a number of lively debates ongoing over whether these bare hillsides do indeed represent the natural order of things or whether this artificially denuded landscape is a symptom of man’s intervention and grazing pressure over the last 6,000 years (ref Dr. Duncan Halley‘s work in SW Norway).
From an ecological and biological perspective, trees perform many beneficial functions; indeed from a farm systems design perspective, they are the backbone of the long term plan here at ACD.
The primary objective for this year’s planting has been shelter creation from prevailing winds on an initial 20 acre plot. I have deliberately kept the edges of these belts undulating and “soft”; partly for the aesthetic and partly for microclimate creation to benefit livestock and wider ecology.
Experiments in Pasture Improvement
When marginal ground, as we have around these parts, is left un-grazed for a while, it doesn’t take long for natural succession to kick in. In the absence of grazing pressure, grasses give way to woodier vegetation, and gradually, the pioneer birches and alder begin to pop up. If left to develop further in this new phase of succession, the improvement in pasture quality beneath this new tree cover is clear.
These pioneer tree species play an important role in restarting the local soil water cycle and beginning the process of nitrogen fixation, which jump starts soil microbiology and nutrient cycling. Leaf litter also adds organic matter to the system, which further helps with soil enrichment.
Part of the regeneration work planned here at ACD is to short-circuit this process where under-grazed pasture has gone “woody” and to plant trees to bring those wet, nutrient deficient pockets back into productivity. While a conventional approach may be to intervene with machinery to remove trees, create open drains, burn vegetation, plough, condition soil and re-seed; the intention here is to let nature do this work for us by using trees to short-circuit this cycle of succession: Permaculture Principle #9: Use small and slow solutions. The ultimate goal in these areas will be to begin to thin the naturally regenerated tree stock back to a silvopasture model once the water and mineral cycling processes have been re-established.
Come on baby, light my fire…
When you start managing hedgerow, it is surprising just how much decent firewood is yielded by a relatively small area. I’m sure that the crafters among you would wince at some of the pieces I have resigned to the firewood pile, but as I am not that way inclined, nor blessed with the patience to develop an interest at this point in time, there is a certain satisfaction knowing that this “waste” stream will go to good use, heating the house.