Farm Ireland

Monday 19 February 2018

Guard your investments in woodland

For trees planted in small groups, guards ensure plants are fully protected from rabbits, hares and vegetation smothering - until they are well established
For trees planted in small groups, guards ensure plants are fully protected from rabbits, hares and vegetation smothering - until they are well established
Joe Barry

Joe Barry

I wrote recently about the difficulties of protecting trees from rabbit and hare damage and suggested some remedies but forgot to mention the one product that I have used for years when planting individual trees around the farm.

It is, of course, those wonderful guards that you slip over the freshly planted sapling and which come complete with a supporting post and cable tie to secure them.

Most of the queries I get are in relation to the protection of young hedges and plantations and, in those instances, where tree numbers are often in their thousands, fencing the entire area with rabbit wire is probably the most economical solution. But for trees planted in small groups or singly, guards are ideal and ensure the plants remain fully protected until they are well established.

Guards are also useful in preventing saplings getting pulled over by bindweed or smothered by nettles and other rampant vegetation.


Guards come in many sizes depending on the animals you wish to protect against, with the larger sizes necessary where deer or sheep can gain access to the planted area.

Wexford firm Kestrel Forestry has an excellent online shop ( with good images of the various guards available. There are also several similar products available from Britain which can be viewed on the internet.

Over the years, I have planted a variety of trees in various field corners and vacant spots where they add to the general diversity and maybe provide a valuable source of income for future generations.

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Trees such as walnut are well worth growing, as are oak, maple, sweet chestnut and cherry or, if the site is secure against animal trespass, yew.

Be sure to check on the soil types and climactic conditions preferred by the less-hardy species before buying them. Cherry and crab apple produce blossom in springtime and lots of fruit for wildlife later in the year. Maple provides wonderful autumn colour and by using a staked tree guard to secure and protect whatever you plant and checking them every few months, the trees will remain safe from damage.

Introduced to Britain by the Romans, walnut produces a dark, hardwood timber which is sought after for the manufacture of quality furniture and gun stocks. Walnut grows well in Ireland if you have a warm, well-drained site and is one of several species that are benefiting from global warming.

The black walnut Juglans nigra tends to outperform other varieties and gives a straighter stem. All walnuts need side pruning in the early years but this should only be carried out in late summer or early autumn.

Cold, heavy clays should be avoided, as should frost pockets. However, the group running the British and Irish Hardwood Improvement programme ( is currently working on improving and selecting those trees that are late flushing and therefore less susceptible to frost damage.


Interestingly, walnut produces a chemical that can restrict the growth of other plants in its vicinity and I have noticed this occurring around trees I have planted here in Meath. They are 'individualists' and not suited to growing in clusters.

Walnut timber consistently fetches high prices due to its quality and rarity -- and even crooked stems and roots are valued for craft work. Apparently, top-quality planking grade wood can fetch more than €1,200/m3 and veneer quality wood can exceed an astonishing €3,000/m3. Typical rotation lengths are relatively short at around 80 years, with some of the hybrid varieties reaching maturity at just 60 years.

For a quality hardwood, the time scale makes it an attractive proposition, especially when compared with our slower-growing broadleaves such as oak. However, walnut is more demanding regarding site conditions and requires greater care, especially in the first decade after establishment.

Nut-bearing walnut can yield 7t/ha a year (if you can keep the grey squirrels at bay) and health-conscious consumers are creating an expanding market for the nuts, paying up to €15/kg for shelled walnut halves. Walnut can reach 7m in height in the first 10 years and even just one or two are worth growing as specimen trees in the garden, in a hedgerow or around the farm.

Indo Farming