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Can I Plant a Wood on Wet Ground in the UK


One of my goals this year is to plant a tree. I could buy a woodland that would come with trees, information, and a hefty price tag. Or I could buy some land and plant a tree by myself – cheap and easy, and something which requires much more patience to enjoy – there’s no dappled lights swaying under a mature canopy while my new tree grows.

Being of modest budget, I decided to look for some land. If you watch the TED Talk about micro forests, it’s possible to plant a dense patch of urban woodland in as little as 100 square meters. Given that I would like to enjoy my tree alongside other trees, I’m looking for much more space than 10m by 10m. A one hundred by one hundred meter piece of land (one hectare) is around 2.4 acres, and that would be my preferred minimum.

Looking on Rightmove, I found some land not too far away from me. The only thing is that it’s between a brook and a river, so I wanted to research flood maps and which trees might grow. Looking at Google Earth, Google Maps and The Environment Agency flood map, this is what I found.


Looks a bit floody


Water, water, everywhere


The plot on Righmove


Google Earth took snaps when it wasn’t flooded

So the whole area looks dark blue in the floodplain map – what does that mean? The area will flood with a one per cent chance each year in the absence of flood defences – that’s the floodplain map for planning. That doesn’t sound too bad, but when you go to the other map – the chance of flooding from rivers and the sea – it says there is a high risk of flooding – greater than 3.3% chance of flooding each year.

Looking at the landfill data, there is all manner of industrial waste reported in the area. There is a quarry next door, and it is hard to get exact details of where the historic landfills are. Within a mile though.

So can I plant trees in a soggy swamp, or as the estate agent calls it, “amenity land”? As a neophyte arborist, I asked a few people over at the Small Woodland Owners Group for their opinion, and they said, that it would be okay to plant:

  • Ash – subject to Chalara dieback – a fatal fungal infection
  • Willow – you can get clippings from canal-side willows and grow your own
  • Alder – they only live for about 60 years, but might live as long as I do.
  • Poplar – happy on river banks
  • Pedunculate oak – this is apparently the emblem of England, and can live a millennium if it doesn’t get diseased.

Looking into riparian woodland species, it seems that there are also a few other trees that could be thrown in the mix:

  • crab apple
  • hazel
  • field maple
  • blackthorn
  • hawthorn
  • spindle
  • aspen
  • hornbeam

Several of these I’ve never heard of before outside of a cider can, so this is quite exciting. So in summary, yes, you can plant trees in swampy ground.

Next steps – heading over to see how squishy the ground is.

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