Managing Old Willow Pollards.
Sunrise: 07.55 Sunset: 04.00
At the southern end of the marsh, close to the main entrance, are perhaps a dozen very old gnarled and twisted willow pollards – reminding me of Lowry’s stick men and women bent by the ravages of time and long, long struggle in dark satanic mills. I don’t know how old our living willow sculptures are, but pollarding can help a tree live for more than a thousand years. These grand old pollards, forever bent by the ravages of time and long, long exposure to the elements, have lost much of their strength and might fall in strong winds if their crowns grow too heavy. Mike Averill spotted an example today with a beech tree growing through its hollow centre. The two seemed to have melded, as if the younger one is sharing its youth, strength and vitality with an older and weaker sibling, in return for protection, companionship, and the benefit of hard-won experience.
Some of the willow trunks have numerous splits and rips, carry a fair bit of rotten wood, and are hosts various fungi, mosses and lichen, but they continue to produce strong healthy crowns, as in the image below:
Ideally, we should pollard these willows when the rods are between 2 to 3 metres long, to make the process easier when using bow saws and long-handled lopping shears. Some of the trees we are working on at the moment have been left a little too long – like the one shown in the image below:
When we have given these old willows what amounts to a good haircut, they look like the one I did earlier today:
When looking at this image I see Stick Man supporting his Stick Lady Love in a swooning embrace. Is it just me?
At the end of the next growing season, a new crown will have sprouted to a height of a metre or so.
A crown can produce a great deal of wood that we have to deal with, if the pollarding rotation period is too long.
The holes, nooks and crannies, and hollow sections in these old trees are home to beetles, grubs, insects and especially Blue Tits during the breeding season. These old willows are long-term assets, and we should do all we can to protect and encourage such valuable resources to keep soldiering on; we ‘Wilden Marshers’ hope that we are doing enough.