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Our Woods and Forests

A Lamb looking at the camera

Spital Tower’s woodlands consist of a wide range of different woodland habitats. From commercial pine and spruce plantations, to ancient broadleaf woodlands, semi-designed landscapes, parkland and open grazed scrubland, we are a farm that embraces forestry.
500 years ago, Spital Tower was one of the farmsteads, or forest steads on the edge of the Hunting Forest of Jed. Grazing livestock among heathland and woodland is a traditional way of life in the border hills. A forest in those days was a broad expanse of open ground, dotted with outcrops of mature trees and thorns.

Plantations of conifers began in the 1700’s and really took hold in the early 1800’s, with dry stone walls being erected to keep out livestock. These woodlands were often strategically positioned to provide shelter for the animals. At this time, the planting of amenity woods and parkland also became popular with landowners. All these different types of woodland can be found at Spital Tower, the accumulation of centuries of different forestry practices.

Commercial Woods.

At the heart of our forestry management is timber production. Working to a Woodland Management Plan agreed with Scottish Forestry, our commercial woodlands are planted for clearfell and restock, on a long-term rotational basis, so there is always maturing timber ready for harvest on the farm. Some of our commercial woodlands are replanted after clear fell with native broadleaf woodlands, which takes that ground out of our commercial rotation and brings it under the amenity management.

Denholm hill wood is our oldest block of commercial woodland  situated to the east of Denholm village, on the slopes of Ruberslaw. First planted in the early 1800’s, it is described in 1858 as “a narrow strip of fir wood extending along a high ridge of land immediately south of Denholm Village, the property of J. Douglas Esq. of Cavers”. By the 1860’s it had been expanded to include the land around Denholm hill Wood Quarry. The wood was said to have blown down in the night of the Tay Bridge disaster. It was replanted, felled, and restocked before T.G.L acquired the farm, being felled again just after WWI. The woodland was replanted some point in the 1920’s, with Scots Pine and Sitka Spruce.

Native Species Amenity Woods

We manage our broadleaf amenity woodlands to create beautiful spaces for both nature and people to enjoy. From these woodlands we also take thinnings to power our renewable heating system in the offices and workshops, and for maintaining our network of paths. In these woodlands, it is not about producing the straightest stems, but more about encouraging natural regeneration and succession through careful, holistic choices. We aim to have constant tree cover within these woodlands, with various heights of canopy, but thinned enough to allow light into the forest floor to encourage the growth of woodland plants.  Our amenity woodlands provide a rich habitat for wildlife.

The hill ground is a mosaic of acid grassland, heather dotted with Scots pine, rowan and birch, and dense hawthorn woodlands where livestock shelter through the winter months. We control our stocking density to allow the natural pine and thorn woodlands to regenerate and expand, whilst also removing any non-native tree species that finds its way to the hill ground, to protect this unique habitat.
Deer stalking is carried out across the property to prevent damage to young saplings.

Fruit trees have also been established at Spital Tower for a long time. The recording of “the Orchards of Spittal” in the Murrays lease of 1715 speaks to a mature fruit growing operation at that time. A few very old crab apples and apple trees survive healthily, and more recently fruit trees were planted in the Edwardian Walled Garden and around the Farmhouse. The apple crop is pressed, pasteurised and bottled annually and sold as Single Estate juice.

A Lamb looking at the camera

Recent Forestry Work

By 2020 Denholm Hill Wood had matured, Spruce bark beetle had infected much of the Sitka spruce, and the Scots pine had begun to drop their crowns, causing a safety hazard for the many people that used the woodland for recreation.

Felled and sold to a local timber merchant in winter 2021, the woodland has now been restocked. During Felling, all broadleaves were left intact where possible, leaving cover and wildlife habitat. The Bailey’s have reduced the size of the commercial woodland, replanting the eastern side with native broadleaves, including oak, beech, hazel, holly, crab apple, cherry and aspen. The remaining area was restocked with a mix of Scots Pine, Douglas Fir and Sitka Spruce.

Burnhead Wood.

In 2022 a new native species 7.68 hectare wood was planted on the northern slopes of Ruberslaw, centred on well-established self-sown copses of mainly Birch. The ground used has significant gorse cover, and this has been used to advantage. Observing that gorse has not grown in the Birch Copses, the planting layout and method adopted will ensure the gorse shelters the young trees in the early years, but when the trees rise above the gorse, they will begin to drive out the gorse.

Ash die-back, parkland restoration, and using our own seedstock.

Since 2020 we have been tackling the effects of Ash Die-back disease, and restoring the Parkland grazings with native hardwoods set into the landscape either singly or in small groups. In parts a planting layout designed by Thomas Leadbetter in the 1920’s has been followed. These trees will provide shelter for stock, and maintain the visual appeal and amenity of the open parklands as the original trees reach the end of their lives.

Ash dieback has been tackled by the felling of affected trees, with the produce being used as firewood or sold to local woodworkers. The resultant gaps in woodland cover are being filled by underplanting with different hardwoods. Interestingly there are a very few Ash trees that appear to be resisting the disease to a significant extent, and these are being monitored…
A small seedlings nursery is being established, centred is the Edwardian Glasshouse, to enable replantings to be done using the historic Spital Tower seedstock, rather than importing from external, non-local sources.

Ancient woodland restoration.

In 2023 we began restoration of one of our ancient native woodlands, Tower Shaw, increasing its area from a struggling remnant below the farm yard, to a large riparian planting that stretches almost the whole length of the farm, connecting the open grazed woodland of the hill to the shelter belts and amenity woods around the steading. See Conservation