This summer’s record-breaking temperatures have been difficult for many, causing disruption to travel, and everyday life. When you look across the landscape currently, everything looks uncharacteristically brown and dry, and it’s hard to imagine lush green landscapes that we are used to.

The heatwaves we have experienced have been particularly harsh on recently planted young trees, with the lack of rain causing water-stress, unfortunately resulting in what appears to be much higher tree failure rates than usual.

When new woodlands are planted, they undergo an annual 3-year programme called ‘beat up’. During this period members of our forest creation team, rangers, and local contractors go back to the woodland to assess what losses have been sustained and record their findings, these checks are done annually for the 3 years. As we are starting to get feedback from the initial beat-up surveys of our newly planted woodlands, there is understandably concern about the potential scale of failures during this year.

The beat-up this year has been challenging, because water-stressed trees often shut down, we know that losses will be higher than normal, but the only way of telling how high will be to see what survives and comes back next spring. In normal years with less extreme temperatures, we usually expect to see losses of around 10 – 20%. Unfortunately, this year the failure rate is set to be at around 50-60% in some areas due to the extreme hot weather.

You may be thinking “why not just water the trees?”…

It would seem like the simple solution, but realistically to provide enough water to a site as big as Queens Wood in Ampthill (38 hectares), for example, just is not feasible. Logistically you would need a bowser large enough to store water capable of watering around 17000 plants, and this would have to be done several times each week. Given the recent drought warnings and hose-pipe bans, watering would not be a suitable solution, using valuable resources that are already in such short supply. We are lucky in this country to usually have wet winters and fairly wet springs too, which generally means that the saplings we plant are able to get through summer as the roots have been quietly establishing in the wet ground after planting, and watering our new sites over summer isn’t necessary. Our contractors visit our sites regularly, to keep the weeds down around the new trees. This reduces competition for water and nutrients and gives the trees the best chance of survival.

Image: Securing tree sapling stakes, Wilstead 

It’s not all bad news…

Our forest creation team, along with local contractors will go back and replace saplings that did not make it in the next planting season, and again the year after that. Any saplings that have not survived the heatwaves will be replaced, and by repeating the ‘beat up’ process annually we can ensure that we have as close to 100% establishment in Year 4 as possible.

We closely follow the science and modelling being done by organisations like The Forestry Commission's ‘Forest Research’, and the outcomes of their research will help to inform what we plant, and how we plant, in future.

Many people working in the Environmental sector are looking at the changes to our climate and feeling anxious, as we are feeling the real effects of climate change this year more than ever. Planting trees is our best, most cost-effective way of combatting climate change, and it is worrying that – this year - we are struggling nationwide to make this happen.

Looking forward…

For our team who work so hard to create and maintain our woodlands and mitigate the impacts of climate change, setbacks like we have experienced this summer can be disappointing and disheartening to say the least.

However, looking at the bigger picture of forest creation; our hard work has not gone to waste. With your help the team here at the Forest of Marston Vale are creating long term natural assets in our woodlands and community green spaces, and we will not be too discouraged by these short-term challenges we are currently facing.

In addition to this we can be proud that this winter will see the largest area of planting ever delivered in the history of the Forest of Marston Vale in a single year!

Image: Tree planting at Queen's Wood, Ampthill

What can you do to help?

By donating or becoming a Friend of the Forest you support our work by helping us plant more trees and maintain our community woodlands.

Furthermore, you can volunteer within the Forest of Marston Vale trust to make a hands-on difference to the creation of more woodlands within the Forest.

Become a Friend of the Forest