Aug 19 2020

The Spruce Pullers!

It’s not difficult to stay socially distanced in Great Knott Wood and finding a purposeful task for lockdown was a no-brainer – spruce-pulling.

Situated just south-east of Lake Windermere, Great Knott is a wood of two halves. Round the edge is the wonderful semi-natural ancient woodland that has been here at least since there were monks in Furness Abbey, and probably for centuries before. But alas, in the post-war period when soft wood timber became a cash crop, the heart of the wood was ripped out and re-placed by a spruce plantation. These trees reached maturity some while ago, shutting out the light to the woodland floor, preventing re-generation of the native species, both trees and vascular plants.

The Woodland Trust acquired the wood some 12 years ago now with the ambition to set about the invaluable but lengthy task of gradually removing the spruce, letting in the light and encouraging native species to re-generate. And it’s working. We have observed with delight the re-greening of the woodland floor and new growth on the native trees.

But, the spruce trees would have it otherwise. Never-say-die. Wherever the light has been let in, spruce seedlings have sprung up, quickly becoming sturdy little plants. Once Heather Swift, the wood manager, had pointed these out and tentatively suggested that removal would be helpful, we set about the task with a will.

This is a task that requires identification and observational skills, thick gloves and a willingness/capacity to bend down and up-root spruce saplings for as long as you have the energy and flexibility. The sheer number of seedling trees is astonishing and there are new ones every spring. Lockdown seemed like just the opportunity to go for a full-on clearance.

And what does that mean in numbers? Well, in a couple of hours, with two of us working, c. 300 seedlings were up-rooted in one modest compartment. Luckily, two other local WT volunteers were also up for the task so between us, we have made a real difference.

One health warning here – the danger is that this becomes an obsessive/compulsive activity and any subsequent walk in the wood is blighted by a spruce-spotting disorder.

Next spring of course, there will be another crop of buoyant little saplings bobbing up.


Vanessa Champion – ATI Verifier and Volunteer, Great Knott Wood, Cumbria

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