Cass Plants Trees

by Cass Jenks

The Contours team enjoy all sorts of hobbies, and many of us spend most of our free time in the great outdoors. Following on from Ben’s Little Leg Adventures, here’s Cass from marketing talking about her ever-expanding tree habit.

The tree-planting addiction

My name is Cass, and I plant trees.

I wasn’t always this way. I used to admire them from afar while out on walks, bicycle rides and motorbike jaunts. But in April 2019, my partner and I bought four hundred trees. I took a week off work to plant them all, unaware that this mammoth task would lead to a lasting obsession.

Bareroot whips of spruce, pine and cherry soak in buckets in our bike shed prior to planting.

Tree-planting in process: a bucket of spruces beside a hole full of compost.
A bareroot Scots pine sapling awaits a tree guard.

Caring for so many plants is naturally quite consuming. For a while we had no sensible way of watering them, so in a fit of protective tree-parent madness, I filled my old enormous thru-hiking backpack with every bottle in the house and marched that water up the hill 35 litres at a time. 

Fortunately we bought a power barrow before I could put my back out irreparably. We’ve since dug a large pond at the top of the hill, and I fill my watering can from that — no more mad packhorse ascents for me.

As an added bonus, now we have dragonflies.

A petrol-powered wheelbarrow ferries in a plastic jug.
A large pond reflects the sky.
A dragonfly sits on the earth beside the pond.

The broader effects of planting trees

The biggest change I’ve observed since plonking all these sticks in the ground is the huge uptick in biodiversity. Wherever we’ve pulled back the grass to make space for our trees, we’ve seen a phenomenal surge in wildflowers, which have drawn clouds of butterflies, bees and beetles.

Purple flowers sprout from the bare earth beside a tree planted in a spiral guard.
A beetle suns itself on the long leaves of a willow sapling.


Now that the trees are over a year old, with serviceable branches and leaf cover, we’ve had all sorts of interesting birds darting about between them, too. We’ve spotted overwintering twites visiting from the Pennines and a flock of red-legged partridges who stayed a few weeks.

Meanwhile, beneath the bushiest hazels, a badger has dug a new set, and the field is full of crisscrossing trails from all the other wildlife passing through.

Future planting plans

For oak trees all across the UK, 2020 was a mast year — a year with a massive boom in acorn production. In our field, that bumper crop produced a dense carpet of oak saplings all along our forest-side border.

A carpet of oak saplings rises above the grass after a mast year of acorns.

We’ve left most of these to grow where they are, but we’ve carefully excavated some too (each oak tree has a long tap root — and they do not like you tampering with it, so this is always a delicate operation) and grown them on in pots.

When winter comes around and the trees go dormant, we plan to replant these truly local oaks between the fast-growing spruces. Along with the wild-seeded birch, field maple and hazel that we’ve encouraged to keep growing all across our field, not to mention the spine of old hawthorn down the middle, this should help to establish deciduous woodland that survives the spruces when they mature and are felled for firewood.

The peeling bark of a growing birch tree.
A mature hawthorn, complete with red berries.
A shot up the trunk of an established hawthorn, showing the scaley bark.

The more I read about woodland, the more I want to branch out with other species. To our original 400 trees, composed of Norway spruce, Scots pine, wild cherry, poplar and willow, we’ve added alder, hornbeam, whitebeam, dogwood, rowan, field maple, chestnut, wych elm, sycamore, beech, apple and holly. There will be more.

Walks are even better when you know about trees

I was always pretty outdoorsy, but after planting these trees and broadening my knowledge of native species, I find myself looking for them constantly whenever I venture out on footpaths and greenlanes. The nosey hiking Beth Pipe talked about comes naturally now.

In a mature woodland, coppiced trees sprout as multiple thinner stems from a joint trunk.

This extra level of involvement in my surroundings is brilliant when I’m trying to identify an area’s distinctive attributes. It’s much easier to write about the character of a place when you understand what you’re looking at — like the signs of historic coppicing pictured above that I spotted while hiking through a woodland near Stock.

I would highly recommend getting madly enthusiastic about trees.

A labrador sits beside a pine sapling in its second year of growth.
Practicing a bore cut with a chainsaw on a doomed hawthorn.
A man wanders beneath the flowering hawthorns.
Cass J, writer at Contours Holidays, rides a mountain bike down a hill.

Cass Jenks

Marketing and Strategy Consultant

Writer, editor and Google-wrangler at Contours Holidays, Cass spends each weekend on the trails, walking the dog or plummeting downhill along Wales’ best mountain biking tracks.

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Originally published 12/12/22

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