Woodland for the future
In 2012 the Queen celebrated her Jubilee Year by starting a conservation project with the hopes of seeing 6 million trees planted that year across the UK, and the Wilderness Foundation UK was lucky enough to be part of that movement.
Over 2012, just under 10,000 young trees were planted here at the our Chatham Green site, across 15 acres of land, by over 1000 volunteers. The trees were a mix of native British species such as Oak, Hornbeam, Silver Birch, Hawthorn, Field Maple and many more, and our tree planters were school groups, community groups and many amazing, dedicated, Wilderness Foundation volunteers. Back in 2012, those little trees were mere whips, with not an inkling of what their lives would be. Now, over seven years later, what does the plantation look like, and who or what is living there?
Opened officially by Her Royal Highness Princess Anne, over the last 7 years the young trees have seen thousands of young minds pass, along the way perhaps inspiring them to love nature or to take more appreciation of the little things. Short lives yet what have those trees already seen!
Amongst the young trees, a whole world is unfolding, hidden from view…unless you look closer. The tall grass that grows at their trunks ends in bountiful seed heads that reach up to their lower branches, providing shelter for a hungry field vole searching for invertebrates, while a barn owl hunts overhead, listening for the slightest movement. A keen eyed kestrel spots the trail of a wood mouse that has dived into a hedgerow of brambles. At the furthest corner of the plantation, an impressive construction awaits us, a huge badger sett, with its interconnected tunnels spreading deep under our feet. On the surface, the badger’s busy tracks cross those of deer and rabbits in wildlife highways snaking through the plantation. The strong scent of a fox sends the wood mice and rabbits away into the densest grass, while the soft bird song of robins and blackbirds signal danger, the blue tits and great tits flee and spread the word.
As the plantation slowly ages it will continue on nature’s schedule and succeed in its own time to a tall, strong woodland supporting life as it was intended. From the canopy above to the forest floor, it will be precious habitat. Even beneath the soil, micro-organisms and fungi together will maintain a network of roots providing the trees above with the essentials of life. Beyond this, the woodland will provide storage of carbon, and provide us with the oxygen we need to survive. As the woodland matures, the oaks that stand small now may become mighty ancient trees 500 years from now, or more, reaching 1000 years is well within the reach of these giants.
In their lifetime, the trees of the Jubilee Plantation at Chatham Green will educate and engage many thousands of people, young and old, about our beautiful natural world. They can provide a quiet sanctuary, a busy school outing, a forest adventure or a mindful walk. In 2018 they were joined by a new orchard of native fruit trees to celebrate the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle after they kindly named the Wilderness Foundation one of their wedding charities. The Jubilee Plantation at Chatham Green will continue to inspire and touch the hearts of generations to come and remind us all of our connection to this beautiful natural world.