Forestry is an integral part of any traditional estate. Well managed woodland will not only provide commercial revenue but sporting potential, enhanced amenity value and of course carbon sequestration. Forestry management is an essential skill in estate management. Philip Trower, agent on the Wotton Estate, and experienced forester, explains the value and adaptability of one species in particular: The Scots Pine.

The wooded areas at the Wotton Estate are extensive, and unusually make up half the estate’s entire acreage. They divide between the main woods (mostly in quite large blocks) and the wooded Commons. The Evelyn Family as owners have a proud silvicultural tradition, one of the most famous members being the Diarist John Evelyn (1620 — 1706) who wrote “Sylva” — a dissertation on forest trees in 1664, which encouraged other landowners to put their woods in proper order.

The two main silvicultural systems operating at Wotton comprise what one can term “plantation forestry”, and “natural regeneration”. The first chiefly operates in the main woods. Mature areas of timber are harvested at the appropriate “rotation age” as a “clear fall”, then replanted, maintained, and steadily thinned until they are clear felled in their turn. In the larger blocks this can achieve a good variety of ages and species, although the present situation with various forest diseases affecting a number of species can result in quite a headache on what to plant as a replacement crop. Larch has been extensively used in the past, as it provides a mature crop quite quickly (say 45 — 50 years for Japanese or Hybrid Larch) and is attractive. Unfortunately a nasty lurgy called Phytophthora Ramorum hit the UK some years ago, and fairly recently the discovery of two infected Larch trees at Wotton resulted in over 20 acres having to be cleared, some less than halfway through their rotation but thinned three times and otherwise looking very promising — as the planting was to make good 1987 Gale Damage this was really quite heartbreaking. Pines (especially Corsican Pine) have been suffering from Red Needle Blight. Ash faces severe threat from Chalara. In many ways foresters have to be eternal optimists.

The principal species on the estate’s Commons, especially the large area running down to Leith Hill, is Scots Pine. This has seeded in naturally for about a hundred years, once Commoners’ animals ceased to graze the area. A programme of “seeding fellings” has been operated for a while now. This involves a heavy thinning initially, to leave about 12 of the best trees per acre. These then seed over the largely cleared area and (with a little patience) a new crop emerges. Some institutional owners primarily interested in conservation prefer to convert (or restore) these areas to heathland, but the annual cost of preventing such areas from a reversion to pine and birch woodland is astronomic. Relatively inexpensive establishment of useful timber crop has its attractions. Scots Pine has been part of the Surrey landscape for about 10000 years. It is very satisfactory to perpetuate this.

There is of course nothing particularly novel about the natural regeneration system. It has been used to good effect elsewhere, for example The Hurtwood to the west of Wotton, where BM Partner Alex Wilks acts for the Shere Manor Estate.

Woodlands across the UK face numerous challenges, not least the recent surge in pests and diseases. Ash dieback is of course one of the most recent but is by no means alone in threatening to change the landscape; potentially as significantly as Dutch Elm disease did 30 years ago. The forestry industry needs as much help as possible to track and monitor the spread of these threats. Climate change is often claimed as a major cause, but of greater concern has been the poor management of our borders and the importation of infected plants.

The following are some of the main areas of concern:

  • Acute oak decline – a disease that has been affecting native oak species for up to 30 years
  • Ash dieback – a fungal disease now sweeping across the UK
  • Asian longhorn beetle – a beetle that attacks a wide range of broadleaf trees
  • Oak processionary moth – another threat to oak trees, but also a possible risk to humans
  • Phytophthora – A plant pathogen that has two main variations.
  • Red Band Needle Blight – a fungal disease of conifers