Two years ago, our project planted native trees on the southern edge of the Knowes. The idea being to extend the thin band of plantation sycamore woodland onto the slope. This way, this woodland can eventually replace the aging sycamores and tie into the larger native wooded area extending throughout the Knowes.
Among the seedlings you can find a mix of birch, rowan, alder, field maple, and goat willow. All of these are native pioneer species. Pioneer species of trees are the first trees to move into grassland and other non-wooded habitats. They begin the forest and they will be followed by larger and longer-lived trees like oak which take much longer to grow. After two years, the trees are doing very differently according to their species, as each is adapted to slightly different terrain. The wet clay soil of the slope is proving great for the alder and goat willow, alright for some birch, and very difficult for the rowan.
Our volunteers at Faifley took the day to provide some help to this young wood in its struggle with the grasses of the slope. Grass is a very competitive plant which, once established can be very difficult for other plants to push around. Young trees have a particularly hard time as they can be shaded by tall grass and will find their young roots out-competed.
We spent the day pulling the grass back from around the young trees, and then placed around the trees woven natural mats provided to us by the West Dunbartonshire council. The mats will act as mulch, blocking the sun from reaching the grass and breaking down slowly to provide nutrients to the tree. We also gathered dead wood from the edge of the older woodland and chopped that up into bits that could be placed around the trees. These will do several jobs. They block some light from grasses and help keep the mats down and in place, but they also store moisture that can be released slowly during dry spells. Finally, they will encourage the growth of fungus in the soil. Trees like a much more fungal soil than grasses and so rotting wood helps to maintain woodland and keep back the grassland.
Someday this is going to be a healthy wooded slope full of beautiful tall trees, diminishing the risk of local flooding and providing beautiful habitat to people and animals in the area.