We started supporting the planting of willows at our first site in Grizebeck in 2020, on marginal land which was otherwise unsuitable for agricultural purposes.
I caught up with the farmer - Mark - earlier this year. Following our meeting, he put into writing the benefits of willow at this particular location and his gratitude for all of our donors support and funding.
I thought I'd share his email verbatim, as a way to show our collective gratitude to all of our donors and to demonstrate how your funding is enabling the planting of more trees in the UK. Mark also notes some of the other benefits of planting willow - such as biodiversity and improved local ecology. Enjoy:
Dear Willow donors,
I write to thank you for your support. I cannot begin to describe how valuable it is for us. Not just the money, but the tacit approval of something new, at least new in our area, and revolutionary as a use for marginal land.
History of the parcel The parcel is about 45 acres which is bordered by Kirkby Park wood and a river known as Kirkby Pool. The wood was emparked in the 14th century so that the Lord of the Manor could put venison on his table. The willow land was manorial waste. In the middle of the 19th century it was drained by a duke of Devonshire who was Lord of the Manor of Kirkby. It is wet but very fertile. When the American Prairies and Argentine Pampas were opened up at the end of the century, it was no longer viable as wheat land and was used for hay and cattle. It is loam over clay: farming it is complicated because it is either too dry or too wet.
Benefits of willow
Soil: reduced compaction because machines pass triennially not annually.
Mulch: 22 years of willow leaves going back into the soil, instead of grass being removed
Reduced fertiliser use: you put a little directly where the stocks go instead of broadcasting, where probably half the benefit washes into the river causing damage. Most of the cost of fertiliser is fossil fuel.
Wildlife: hugely reduced disturbance, willow plants' catkins provide early sugar for insects, willow plants provide predation protection to ground nesting birds (particularly buzzards)
Less cows: we financed planting this willow and our other parcels by selling our cows. I am certain that slurry run off contaminates becks and rivers and that however careful you are, it is very hard to minimise.
Money The difficulty of willow is it is a long time twixt harvests. At the moment we get a reducing benefit from Basic Payment but that ceases in its entirety in 2027. On paper the return/capital cost looks similar to the suckler herd it replaced, but all things to do with farms look better on paper. Your donations make a big difference. We are going to try and plant more.