Think like a sheep… to plant a tree

Yep, that’s right. This exciting project is encouraging our rangers and volunteers to think like sheep in order to plant trees in Dyffryn Mymbyr, Snowdonia.

Why think like a sheep?

Usually tree planting projects involve excluding any livestock from the area by erecting fences or walls. However, we’re trialling some new ideas which involve planting trees in such a way that they are difficult or impossible for the livestock to eat, without using fences.

“Think like a sheep and ask yourself, ‘can I eat that tree?’ If the answer is no, then you’ve done a great job” explains Area Ranger, Simon Rogers to his gang of volunteers.

Welsh mountain lambs
Welsh mountain lambs exploring rocky terrain
Welsh mountain lambs

Clever planting techniques

By using the natural features of the land and some clever planting techniques it is possible to plant trees where grazing livestock is still present.

  • Sabre planting – planting at 90˚ to a steep slope helps to keep the vulnerable leading shoots as far out of reach as possible.
  • Natural protection – using features of the landscape to make the trees difficult to reach. Useful features include gorse, bracken, steep slopes, boulders, river banks and rocky outcrops.
  • Tree stock – choosing your trees carefully can help a great deal. We use locally sourced trees which are around 150cm tall and grown in pots. The height helps to keep the leading shoots out of reach and the pots help to develop a good, strong root ball giving the tree the maximum chance of survival in the harsh upland conditions.
Trees planted in hard to reach places, doing well at Dyffryn Mymbyr
Young trees recently planted at Dyffryn Mymbyr, Gwynedd
Trees planted in hard to reach places, doing well at Dyffryn Mymbyr

All our trees are sourced locally from Gwynant Trees who collect the seeds in Nant Gwynant and Capel Curig. We’re simply giving nature a helping hand by growing the trees in a nursery during their most vulnerable stage (up to 150cm tall) and then planting them out in the safest possible location.

It’s all about quality, not quantity

It’s not necessarily about how many trees we can plant, it’s about the quality of the planting to ensure that those we do plant will survive. Volunteers are encouraged to take their time, study the landscape and think like a sheep before selecting a location to plant each tree.

Quality is the priority but we’re still ambitious! Volunteers have planted 3000 trees over the past three years and around 75% have survived. We aim to plant a total of 5000 by the end of the 5 year ‘Ffridd for Future’ project, which has been funded by the Royal Oak Foundation.

Volunteers have played a huge part in the Ffridd for Future project
Volunteers planting trees along a ravine at Dyffryn Mymbyr, Gwynedd
Volunteers have played a huge part in the Ffridd for Future project

Why are we planting trees here?

Dyffryn Mymbyr is the “missing link” between the two wooded valleys around Nant Gwynant and Capel Curig. By extending the tree-cover within the ‘ffridd’ area of the farm, we can help to improve the connectivity between the two areas of woodland either side, allowing birds and small mammals the chance to expand their ranges too. It means there will be better and more continuous tree coverage through this part of Snowdonia.

Are there any other benefits?

Most of our planting has been focussed in the gullies and stream-sides as that is where the best natural protection is found. But planting along ravines can have additional benefits; trees help slow the flow of water during flash floods and can also improve water quality. The rain which lands in Dyffryn Mymbyr ultimately ends up in the Conwy river, which is well known for flooding. By planting trees here, along with other work such as blocking drainage ditches to restore the peat bog, we hope to reduce flooding downstream and improve the water quality.

Once the trees become established they can act as shelter belts for the mountain ewes, which can greatly improve animal welfare and productivity for the farmer.

This style of planting is a lot less costly and creates less of a visual impact on the landscape compared with fencing off an area for tree planting

What next?

So far the project has shown that new trees can be established in a farmed landscape at a relatively low cost and with no loss of grazing area. The benefits to wildlife are clear but the additional benefits of slow, clean water and shelter for livestock make the ideas particularly exciting.

We’re going to be using this as a spotlight project to show other farmers, landowners and rangers what the benefits might be. Hopefully we will see more trees being established on upland farms across the country for the benefit of wildlife, livestock, water and perhaps most of all, the trees themselves.