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Which trees shall be planted in this area?

Many options make many numbers

Good tree seedlings are kept moist and have many fine roots

It’s spring time: How about some new planting?

This spring I am collecting many new forestry experiences. As a social science researcher, I apply an ethnographic research approach, which means that I do “observatory participation” and accompany foresters during their daily work in order to learn about their professional culture. Since mostly I do not know in advance what to expect when I do my fieldwork—for example, a one-day silvicultural training for forest workers and foresters—I often find myself in unexpected situations.

 Last week’s silvicultural training was about how to plan and conduct the planting of new tree seedlings after a forest area has been damaged by storms or bark beetles. In small groups, we participants assessed a deforested area about 0,7 ha in size, close to Heilbronn, and learned which aspects to include when weighing pros and cons of a balanced decision-making process. We practiced how to decide about tree species mixtures, numbers and sizes of seedlings. What about increasing the coniferous forest share? Or better to establish a new oak stand, since the relatively open area offers good light availability? Naturally, you also have to decide about the distance between one seedling to the next and their speed of growth, since some species like to grow in the shade of others. Other important aspects were how to prepare the soil, which tools to use to dig appropriate holes for the seedlings, how to fix seedlings to supporting sticks, how to protect them from being eaten or damaged by game, and how to assess the quality of seedlings, which are often bought from tree nurseries. I learned that root damages hinder tree development substantially and that a good seedling has many fine roots, which are the beginnings of a solid future anchoring of the tree. Once the seedlings arrive, they need to be kept moist enough and thus protected from the sun and wind at special storage places.

 There is of course no one-size-fits-all best-solution model, but as almost always in forestry, the specific local conditions and circumstances have to be taken into account and, as the foresters often say: “three foresters, five opinions” (loosely translated). One thing that shocked me was the amount of plastic, which is used to protect the seedlings in our forests. We heard that one specific company alone sells more than five tons of protection material annually in Germany, which means that our forests are full of plastic, and not all plastic protection is removed again after the trees are big enough and no longer need protection. Some is lost or forgotten. There surely must exist more sustainable options for tree seedling protection?

While all of that was new and exciting for me, the participants updated their knowledge too, and profited from the training, since in their usual daily work there is little time for such intensive professional exchange, as they told me. The trainers received very positive feedback for their intensive preparation and lively conduction of the training. I want to thank them for the many exciting experiences I have participated in, I look forward to the next training this week!

by Ronja Mikoleit (D1) 25.03.2019