The Art of Natural Forest Practice

Celf Ymarfer Coedwig Naturiol





Steve Watson - Tree Shepherd
'No-Fence Planting'/'Establishing Trees on Over-Grazed Land'. As Tony Benn would say, "Policy before personality".

Much of the Earth's surface has been deforested and remains so due to over-grazing by livestock.  However there are some hillsides where some trees have managed to survive against all the odds, no matter how barren, overgrazed and treeless.  How is this?
The natural process by which such trees survive is a global phenomenon.  These trees and the micro-sites they occupy can be studied and new ‘No-Fence Planting’ methods developed by which young trees can take advantage of natural protection allowing woodland creation on grazed land.
One of the ways in which young trees naturally escape browsing pressure is by growing out and over sloping ground on hillsides, streams and river banks.  This results in trees with ‘sabre-shaped’ profiles; semi-recumbent stems leaning out over the slopes before sweeping upwards to form vertical crowns.  Such trees can be seen the world over, as natural survivors in overgrazed landscapes.  These can be copied and trees sabre-planted in their likeness.
Tree Shepherds have, since 1981, pioneered the study and development of No-Fence Planting.  They have thousands of well established trees at hundreds of heavily grazed sites.
Another No Fence Planting method utilises protective, thorny, or unpalatable companion plant species as nurses; primarily gorse and bracken in North Wales.  Trees have also been planted with bramble, rhododendron, knotweed, juncus, etc.  In Scotland small-eared willow and broom can be used to provide cover and help conceal other native tree and shrub species.
Scots pine is particularly well camouflaged when planted amongst gorse and broom.  Sabre-planting and gorse (or other) planting techniques can be combined and used in conjunction to provide additional protection to the leading shoots of young trees.
Large 3m willow cuttings have also been used by Tree Shepherds to extend tree cover on grazed wet-lands.
No Fence Planting and seeding can be used to establish new woodlands on heavily grazed land which would otherwise be quite impossible to re-establish as woodland.
Woodlands can also be created on agricultural land without the use of any protective fencing, stock exclusion, loss of grazing, or change of land use, particularly important when applying for agricultural subsidies.
For more information on No Fence Planting workshops and courses please contact me, Steve Watson, on 07874 230 043.

Further reading – Sabres in the hills, by Steve Watson, pub. in Tree News, The Tree Council, spring 1998.

Ash Tree

Sabre-trees in bracken

Rowan Tree

Rowan planted by Steve as a
sabre tree in quarry waste

steve & Iliff

Natural sabre tree - native sessile Oak


Steve's sabre planting on a mountain side

steve watson

Steve Watson examining his
planting on a steep hillside


Half-standard transplants