Should you be blessed with good health, then life is your oyster, and even better if you should be able to retire from work at the same time. So it was in 1987 that I started to concentrate the mind on the next stage of my life.
I have always loved the countryside, so why not try and improve it by putting something back? Perhaps I could, at the same time, make an investment for future generations of my family. So, as the enthusiasm grew, I started looking for a field or two, which would be suited to growing trees. Much to my surprise - and good fortune - a farm in the East Midlands, not far from my home, came on the open market.
The meadowland was divided into small parcels and put out to tender. I was fortunate enough to buy about 40 acres which included 10 acres of disused railway land (part cutting and part steep embankment) which has proved to be most suitable for wildlife. It is now my conservation area.
It was at this time that the Forestry Commission at Corby came to my rescue with information booklets and a site visit which enabled me to draw up a development plan. Tree selection was determined by the length of time the various species would take to mature. I would plant at 3m x 3m spacings, using 750mm tubes. So I reckoned that the Hornbeam would mature first at 50 years, followed by the Ash (which was to act as the nurse crop), at 80 years - to leave a pure Oak woodland. It was not considered necessary to plan for a thinning programme with the trees at 3 metre spacings. As far as I was concerned, that was all the hard work done and I would sit back and admire my trees progress...
That notion was soon dispelled when I was introduced to Peter Goodwin of Woodland Heritage! He came to inspect the plantations when they were 5 years old. His first question was "Why haven’t you started formative pruning?" I explained that with my policy, pruning would not be necessary as trees naturally fill in the gaps within the rows and the nurse trees would encourage them to grow straight and true. "This is not reality" said Peter. "If you want to grow quality timber, then you must prune regularly at least every 3-4 years. Because you have no hope of catching up with this work yourself, I will arrange for Woodland Heritage to have the work carried out professionally on the first two plantations, at no expense to yourself."
I am greatly indebted to this gesture and am certain that my trees have greatly improved by this action - furthermore, all the trees are now monitored on a regular basis to ensure that I am not falling behind on these instructions.
Next winter will see the start of the final pruning - at up to 6 metres high - and I am beginning to select certain trees for their first thinning.
Two years ago the grey squirrels moved in and began to bark-strip the Hornbeam (most which are now dying). The Forestry Commission have proved most helpful in fighting this problem through their Woodland Grant Scheme. Although the battle is far from won, at least the damage has been reduced for the time being.
In conclusion, my trees are now progressing very satisfactorily, largely thanks to the help from so many knowledgeable people - and a more recognised retirement may be possible when the final pruning has been done!