Apr 18 2022

Gorse corrals for our nibbled young trees

Meg and Chris Mellish volunteer at our most northerly Woodland Trust site, Ledmore and Migdale in Sutherland.

Here is a piece by them about their incredible and innovative volunteering efforts to protect trees that have been nibbled by deer as they emerge from their tubes:


In the Woodland Trust land west of the main Ledmore Oakwood there is an area of perhaps 4 square kilometres in which over 1,000 trees were planted about 20 years ago. This is on a south facing slope with lovely views across the Dornoch Firth.  Although a small number of these trees have now grown to a medium height, unfortunately the vast majority have either died or have hardly grown above the plastic tube shelters they were planted in.  Such has been the effect of deer grazing, especially red deer, and overshadowing by gorse, which has grown to over 3m high in places, and bracken, which in the summer is taller than the height of a person.


Woodland Trust, as part of the South East Sutherland Deer Management Group, is working to reduce deer numbers in this location to benefit not only the young trees but also reduce the risk of deer collisions on the A949, and damage to neighbouring farmland.  It is also in the middle of a 5 year programme to tackle the bracken, involving “rolling” the bracken with a machine twice a year and “whipping” the bracken in places where the machine cannot go. Bracken is very hard to eradicate, but these are among the best ways to control it.


We are Woodland Trust volunteers and have been helping with the bracken whipping. We have also spent a lot of time trying out an idea which Ross Watson, Site Manager, gave us to help the trees grow out of the tubes. The idea is first of all to gradually cut down the gorse, to open up the land for the trees that had made it above the tubes and to make regeneration possible. Secondly, the idea is to use this gorse to create barriers, or “corrals”, around groups of the trees growing in tubes. Between March and December 2020 we made about 30 such corrals, enclosing between one and 30 trees each, and we’ve been maintaining them to try to keep the deer out. Each corral is approximately 80cm high. We have used old tree support posts to strengthen them and have tried to weave long pieces of gorse in around these posts, so that the wind can’t blow them away.


Gorse corrals

Above these lines is a picture of an example corral enclosing four tubes, seen about a year after it was built in October 2020. You can see that the rightmost tree in a tube is outside the corral and has been nibbled by deer, but the ones inside are OK. So sometimes the corrals do seem to keep the deer away from the tubes enclosed.


We have discovered that the best corrals are probably on the small side, enclosing maybe three or four trees in tubes, with a reasonable distance between the tubes and the edge so that deer cannot lean over and nibble the trees from outside. This is because deer seem to be attracted to enter larger corrals, because of the open space and grazing available inside. Also it is useful to allow the deer clear ways around the corrals so that they don’t have to barge through to keep to their habitual routes.


It is the intention of the Woodland Trust to replant soon some areas where trees in tubes have died and there is ongoing gorse control and bracken whipping. Hopefully with this, reduced browsing and a large proportion of trees in corrals surviving, this will eventually lead to a substantial new area of woodland.


Thanks to Chris and Meg for this article and for their ongoing efforts!


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