How One Person Can Plant 500 ‘Trees’ in an Hour: The Rewilding Wand.
Imagine you could plant 500 trees in an hour while out for a walk, say, on moorland. Think of how many trees (or shrubs, or wildflowers, or whatever) you can plant in the course of a year, at that rate, simply by including a bit of rewilding as part of you walks in the wild. This rate of planting is readily achievable and I've recently watched people’s eyes light up - and heard comments like, “This is amazing!” - when I showed them how it’s done.
The “trees” in this case were actually tree seeds: Scots Pine (Pinus sylvestris), responsibly-sourced. We were planting them using a slightly modified walking stick, which I sometime refer to as a Rewilding Wand (or Rewiliding Stick if you prefer), that allows us to put a seed in the ground, every second step, walking at a steady walking pace.
Theoretically, using this method, 20 skilled people could plant 10,000 trees in an hour! Or you could plant 10,000 trees in 20 hours! Of course, not all the seeds would germinate, and not all of those which would germinate would survive, but more about that later.
in this example, the planting was done in the Highlands of Scotland. However, similar principles could be applied to planting in many different places worldwide.
The image on the right (click image to see a larger version) shows two Rewilding Wands / Rewilding Seed Sticks which have been created from two different types of metal walking sticks. The push-on rubber feet have been removed so you can see the blades at the bottom of the sticks. You can also see the hole for the seeds a few inches down from the top of the stick on the left. The Rewilding Wand can be made from a variety of different types of walking sticks. The main critera is that the 'donor' stick be made from hollow metal tubes. (If using a hiking pole as a donor stick it is best to choose one which has Quick Flip Locks - such as the one pictured - as most other types are more awkward to modify. )
For more details on how to make a Rewilding Wand: How to Make a Rewilding Wand
Direct Planting of Seeds Using the Rewilding Wand
There are some advantages to planting seeds directly, in situ, with a Rewilding Wand instead of planting seedlings. If an individual decided they wanted to plant, say, 10 thousand trees, it would normally be an expensive, time-consuming (and back-breaking) proposition to do so with seedlings. We would either have to grow, or buy, the seedlings. Then, because we spent so much time and / or money on the seedlings we would feel that they have to protect them from predation by using fences or Spiral Tree Protection Guards. This would take even more time, and add even more to the costs. Yet, using a Rewilding Wand (and a bit of practise), the same amount of planting can be done in 20 hours of "walking". Obviously, planting trees using seedlings is, in general, an important part of reforestation. However, it is good to at least consider this other option - a wilder option - The Rewilding Wand.
The Rewilding Wand is largely at the experimental stage, yet, results have been very encouraging. The places I have returned to a few years after first using it, show very positive results. Small trees of various sizes have sprouted up. It looks like the seeds have not all germinated in the same year and there are considerabl size variations. The Rewilding Wand is simply a modified, hollow-metal, walking stick (which you can buy online for £10 or less).
Germination and Predation When Direct Planting Scots Pine Seeds
In making the following comments, I am assuming that the seeds are sown in clusters, linked together with lines of planting, in an area suited to that species (in this case Scots Pine). The idea is not so much to plant a forest, but to plant potential stands of trees with gaps between so that other things can grow. Since Scots Pine roots tend to graft to each other, and share water and nutrients that way, long-term survival rates will probably be better for clusters of trees rather then single trees which are widely spread out.
A good place to start is to see what is already regenerating and what is already growing in similar types of soil and similar conditions in that area. In the case of the Highlands of Scotland, there are increasing number of small trees growing up through the heather (a small shrub native to the area). Many of the emerging trees look healthy even in areas right next to where there are signs of rabbits and deer activity, and of likely predation. The heather seems to act as a natural protection for the emerging trees, at least while they are fairly small. Therefore, part of the solution to predation in the Highlands could be to plant the seeds among the heather, as the seeds can be seen to be germinating and surviving well there as it is a natural form of protection. If we look closely at what is happening on the land in the Highalnds in recent years (since the sheep have been removed) large areas are starting to regenerate and small trees can be seen dotted around over very large areas. This is all without any kind of deer fence to protect the trees. Possibly many of these trees are growing from seed spread by the deer.
It would be tricky and awkward to plant actual seedlings directly within the heather (as the heather roots and branches would get in the way) but direct-planting seeds into the heather with a Rewilding Wand can be done easily and takes only seconds per seed.
Since the seeds are not being grown all together in the same place, like seedlings in a nursery normally are, there is far less risk of mice and other rodents, getting at them.
Seedlings would take a year or two to recover after being planted out; whereas the direct-planted seed will presumably be hardier and probably more able to recover from predation.
Even when planting the seeds in a rabbit-infested area or areas where there are “too many deer” (though maybe it’s an issue of “not enough forest”), this ability for the trees to protect themselves from predation is much cause for hope.
Things to keep in mind about predation:
A) If the newly-emerging direct-planted tree is predated, it later encloses itself heavily in needles which offeres it some protection.
B) Spread the Predation Load: There is always the option to plant more seeds, as the extra time and the extra and cost is minimal, so that the effect of predation is more widely spread so that the trees can recover more quickly.
C) From a Big Picture, long-term, perspective even if only a few trees survived those trees could eventually seed a forest.
The picture on the right is of a 16-inch Scots Pine after it has recovered from predation. The response of covering itself in needles seems to be very common and can be seen even in very tiny trees of only an inch or two high. Getting more seeds into the ground in such an area would help spread the "predation load" and allow more of them to recover and mature more quickly.
Seed Germination and Survival in the Wild
Much is known about how to germinate seeds in nurseries and in places of research. It is more difficult to find out how to make things grow directly in the wild. What types of seeds are suited to direct planting in situ? What types of trees? What types of bushes and shrubs? What types of flowers? Which plants are not too fussy about planting depth? However, a few people doing a bit of “action research” and sharing their experiences would be highly beneficial to the Rewilding movement. Obviously a good place to start is to see what is growing already in that area.
From my experience Scots Pine works well as it is toleratant of different planting depths and suited to Scottish soil and climate. It grows in a wide area throughout Europe so it is likely to do well even with global warming. As it is a pioneer species it makes a very good test species for direct-planting in situ. The emerging trees seem to recover from predation even if their are tiny.
The Rewilding Wand
The Rewilding Wand is presented here as proof of concept. The easiest way to test the idea for yourself is it to get a metal walking stick as a donor stick and modify it. The modifications are so minimal that, except from very close up, the Rewilding Wand looks very much like an ordinary walking stick. In fact, the rubber foot which normally comes with a walking stick can usually be re-attached so it looks almost exacty as it did before it was modified.
For step by step details of how to make a Rewilding Wand see: How to Make a Rewilding Wand
The Rewilding Wand is in essence, simply a hollow metal tube with a hole near the top where the seed goes in; and a ‘blade’ at the bottom where the seed come out. The seed is planted by dropping it into the hole at the top of the Wand (using one hand) as you push the blade end of the tube into the soil and twist the tube (using the other hand to move the handle). The seed lands in the hole made by the blade as the Wand is turned. Additionally, you can put one foot on the hole as you walk forward to press down the soil.
With a bit of practice you will be able to get up to walking speed. And, with a little bit more practice you will be able to use the stick with either hand.
There are some small skills needed in learning how to use the Rewilding Wand. The main challenge is to avoid getting the blade clogged with moss or mud. If conditions are too muddy it may not work at all as it will get clogged too easily. But, generally speaking it works fine even in damp soil as it is mostly a matter of learning to not push the blade of the Wand too far into the ground - and, in the beginning at least, checking it regularly to make sure its clear. (It’s a bit frustrating to find that all the seeds you thought you planted in the last 5 minutes are all actually still in the tube stuck behind a plug of mud. But, that problem tends to disappear with practice.)
Mostly I’ve tested the Wand using Scots Pine seeds in patches of bare soil, moss, sand, leafmold and heather. Physically the Wand is sturdy enough to plant into grassy areas, but I have not done much of that as I assume the seeds would have too much competition. For soil that is starting to get a bit muddy, or for deep moss, more care is required as its necessary to tap the blade end of the Wand against your boot regularly to keep it clear.
The image on the right is another small Scots Pine Tree After Predation. Again you can see that is has covered itself in needles. Predation may slow down its growth, but it doesn't look like it will stop it.
Even the initial version of the Rewilding Wand is capable handling of a fairly wide range of seeds. If you can readily separate the seeds using one hand, then usually they will work. However, very light seeds, those meant for being blown by the wind, are a bit problematic. Larger seeds such as for Hazel and Oaks are also possible with some modifications to the Wand to let them pass though it.
Some seeds, such as cherry seeds, which are quite light for their size, may tend to bounce out of the hole made by the blade. A bit more accuracy is required with these to make sure the Wand is pushed fully enough into the soil to stop the seed bouncing back out - yet not so much that soil blocks up the tube. Also with some seed and soil combinations, you may need to twist the Wand back and forth to make sure the seed falls into the hole and is not just lying on top of the ground.
With loose or very sandy soil, which tends to refill the hole as soon as it is made, it is sometimes better to drag the Wand back towards you, an inch or so, after making the hole and dropping the seed, to let the seed fall into the gap.
There is much to be said for modifying the Wand for the particular type of seeds and particularly type of soil. Usually its is a matter of making the blade wider or narrower; longer or shorter, making the Wand from a much narrower donor stick for small seeds, and so on. Certainly in the beginning it is best to practise, and refine your technique, with only one type of seed.
I am having trouble finding information on what planting depths various seeds can tolerate for good germination (apart from the usual “about 3 times the size of the seed”). The information currently available is usually geared towards growing seedlings in pots not direct-planting seeds in situ, where it is more difficult to be accurate with the planting depth. I read a report which suggests that Scots Pine can tolerate a wide range of planting depths, so that is one of the many reason I chose it for testing purposes.
The potential of the Rewilding Wand is huge. But, it is in the experimental stage.
In theory, it allows 1 Million seeds to be planted in about 2,000 hours of planting time - assuming the planters have at least a few hours experience of the method. A moderately-sized group of dedicated people could find that amount of time in a year; a smaller group in a couple of years. Even a single individual could find that amount of time, over some years, if they have enough determination and dedication.
Perhaps a few years from now we can have groups of people, who know what they are doing, planting millions of seeds on a regular basis and bringing forward the renewal of our forests by many decades.
However, it is early days. The results I have seen have been very encouraging, but it needs more people to test the Rewilding Wand, make variations of it, try different planting techniques, and compare results. Are you one of those people?
May the blessings of future generations be upon us.