Thanks to your generous ‘gifts’ bought through the CRT’s Twelve Gifts of Christmas campaign, we were thrilled to buy new withies to plant in our osier beds at Bere Marsh Farm. 

In winter 2023, our volunteers planted 3,000 willow sets, as shown in the photo above. Half of these were cuttings from the CRTs Lark Rise Farm in Cambridgeshire and the other half came from Flanders Red and Brittany Green hybrid willows, bought from a local supplier in Dorset. 

An essential element of a withy bed is to have wands at various stages of growth, so the planting needs to be staggered, which we’ve now been able to do by planting 1,000 more withies earlier this spring.  The harvest takes place in January.

Farm manager Elaine Spencer-White, Bere Marsh Farm Manager, said:

The osier beds are an ideal way to make use of the land at Bere Marsh that is liable to flooding because willow as a species in general absorbs nutrients from flood waters. 

The osier beds have many other advantages. One of our key missions at the CRT is to work the land in a way that benefits the farmers and local wildlife. Growing withies is a perfect example of this. 

The withies will also provide a new habitat that will benefit a host of different wildlife, including sedge warblers and various moth species that feed on willow foliage. The willow catkins will provide a fantastic source of pollen and nectar for insects and birds in spring. 

Once the willows are mature, they can be coppiced every two or three years and this will be done in rotation so that at least some of the trees will have the opportunity to flower and maintain a healthy biodiversity.  

Our willow beds on Lark Rise Farm in Cambridgeshire were created just over 25 years ago and the regular pollarding shows the trees have provided a nesting place for song thrushes, chaffinches and harvest mice.

They have enjoyed the cover provided by the willowsdense new growth during the breeding season. We could also see signs on the trees of Woodpeckers digging out beetle larvae to feed on. 

The young branches of the osiers are particularly straight and flexible, making them perfect for basket making and the larger wands are ideal for hedge laying and thatching.  

This means when the willow wands are harvested, they can either be used in craft workshops on Bere Marsh Farm or sold to local craftspeople and thatchers 

The sale of the osiers will enable the CRT to generate a sustainable income for more than 30 years, which will support other conservation projects.

How you can help

We can’t do it without you. If you want to help us protect local wildlife you can support the CRT in any number of ways, from joining as a CRT Friend to volunteering on one of our farms and attending our events. You can also sign-up to our monthly newsletter 'CRT News' for regular updates from our farms, straight to your inbox.

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Published: April 2024