Much of forestry is steeped in tradition; using methods and practices developed over many years by our ancestors, who understood that working in harmony with the land and managing our woodlands and forests meant they would thrive for the benefit of all.  Technology and innovation has meant that much of this understanding has been lost in the pursuit of ‘more’ – more timber, more products, more money. Here at the Forest of Marston Vale Trust we’ve always had an appreciation of the traditional approach, complemented by technology and innovation.

Respecting the past, working towards the future

Creating a Forest isn’t as simple as planting a few trees and walking away. Each individual woodland is planned - what tree species will thrive based upon the soil type, drainage and exposure? Are there other objectives for the woodland, such as flood management or supporting nearby ancient woodlands? These are some of the questions answered during the planning of a new woodland and technology is helping to reduce the burden of this planning process. We use GIS – Geological Information System – a mapping programme that helps with the design of a woodland, using Ordinance Survey data to get accurate measurements. ESC – Ecological Site Classification – is another key tool, as it helps to predict climate variations and produces different scenarios for a proposed planting area, recommending tree species that will be appropriate for the future predicted climate.

This has led to the introduction of some non-native species into our planting mix, such as Red Oak (Quercus rubra) – a North American broadleaf tree, which is less susceptible to pests and pathogens than our native English Oak (Quercus robur) and Sessile Oak (Quercus petraea). Red Oak is valuable to  wildlife, as the catkins provide pollen for bees and other insects and its acorns will feed birds and small mammals. Another non-native species that we’ve introduced to our planting mix, to give some climate resilience to our woodlands, is Norway maple (Acer platanoides), the leaves of which are a favourite for caterpillars and its seeds are a food source for birds and small mammals. So while technology has guided us towards these non-native species, history is also informing our current choices. The Wild service tree (Sorbus torminalis) is an ancient woodland indicator species, as it would have been part of the make-up of our woodlands hundreds of years ago and is now found in rare and special habitats. It is undergoing a renewed surge in popularity with foresters and woodland creators as it has thermophilic qualities (it can withstand higher temperatures), is tolerant of temporary flood waters and can grow on a wide range of soils.

The next steps

Once the woodland design has been finalised, the woodland has to be marked out, with stakes to guide the planting of the trees. Historically, this has been done on foot with a measuring wheel, but now we can use satellite technology such as Avenza Maps, to measure the planting site as a whole and individual compartments within it, plus accurately pinpoint locations within the site.

Throughout the Forest area we use tree guards or shelters to protect the planted saplings from browsing wildlife and the elements. Historically, these guards have been made of plastic, (which we remove and recycle once redundant) but current innovations are bringing new options into play, including biodegradeable and natural organic materials.

New methods for green spaces

Another innovation in forestry is planting Tiny (Miyawaki) Forests. A concept developed by Japanese botanist and ecologist Akira Miyawaki in the 1980s, it’s now spreading globally, including to Bedfordshire. The idea is to plant a lot of trees in small urban spaces, to increase biodiversity and the capture of carbon emissions on land that previously been used for other purposes, such as agriculture or industry. The Miyawaki method speeds up forest establishment, growing forests in a shorter period of about 20-30 years (including smaller green patches that grow in around two years) unlike naturally-grown forests that may take more than 100 years to establish. The benefits are numerous - forests that are 30 times more dense, grow 10 times faster, require very little maintenance after two to three years of planting them and don't require too much space – an ideal innovation in the face of the current climate crisis. We’re working closely with Bedford Borough Council on creating local Miyawaki Forests, including Longholme Way in 2023 and Jubilee Park in February this year.

Image above: Miyawaki tiny forest in the making in Bedford

Innovation for the future

Repurposing is another innovation currently taking place within the Forest of Marston Vale. We’re renovating the exterior of a WW2 pillbox in Waypost Wood, Cranfield and repurposing the interior as a bat hibernaculum, or shelter to see out the winter months. Restoration of the brick and concrete pillbox will have historical significance for both the Cranfield and wider community interested in our country’s heritage and history, whilst repurposing the interior as a bat roost creates an important wildlife habitat to support our local bat population.

Image above: Renovation of the pillbox at Waypost Wood, Cranfield

Our work at the Forest of Marston Vale Trust provides many examples of tradition and innovation working hand in hand, moving with the times, without losing the knowledge and lessons of the past. We’ll continue in this vein towards our ultimate goal of 30% tree cover across the Forest of Marston Vale – because trees make life better! 

Please get involved with this year's International Day of Forests by donating. Any funds raised will be used to continue to grow your local Community Forest for everyone to benefit from.