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Maintaining Gair Wood - A winter highlight


Guest blog by Surbhi Thakur, Gair Wood Student Sustainability Architect

This winter season, I finally had the chance to visit Gair Wood, the University of Leeds' ambitious tree-planting project I had been hearing so much about. Unlike many others though, I was not there for the initial planting drive. My visit came almost a year later, when the ground was settled, and the seedlings were getting ready to unfurl their buds into leaves with the approaching warmth of the new year.  

Our team, consisting of ten committed volunteers and a couple of guiding scientists, reflected the diversity and unity of the project, as we worked together to nurture something greater than ourselves.  

A group of people gathered around Drs Tom Sloan and Cat Scott, who are demonstrating how plastic guards should fit around tree seedlings

Dr Cat Scott and Dr Tom Sloan demonstrating tree maintenance at Gair Wood

As the current Student Sustainability Architect for the Gair Wood Project, my role encompasses overseeing and coordinating various initiatives aimed at fostering sustainability within the University of Leeds community and beyond. My job that day involved taking great care in pulling out any stubborn grass blades that were invading the young trees' vital space. It felt like a little victory, with each carefully cleared tree protector, giving these future giants the best possible chance to flourish. However, the task involved more than just careful weeding. We turned into detectives as we made our way through the woodland, examining every seedling for indications of stress. There were visible remnants of a recent storm; some branches were bent, and others had clearly been beaten by the wind.   

Surbhi in a warm winter coat, crouching in a grassy field and inspecting a seedling

Surbhi removing grass from around a Scots Pine

We evaluated the damage with cautious hands and eyes, mentally noting areas that needed more attention. It was in these silent moments of observation that Gair Wood's true grandeur dawned on me. This was more than just a field of trees; it was a living, breathing thing that was both strong and delicate. Even though they appeared frail, every seedling had the capacity to grow into generations, whispers of shade to come, and the sound of leaves rustling in the wind. And we were its guardians for a while, the little group of volunteers, making sure it went smoothly into the future.   

But there was much more than just physical labour going on — a strong sense of community. As we laughed and told stories to other volunteers, we bonded over our desire to change the world. Everyone, from retirees to students, contributed their special viewpoint and wove a tapestry of dedication and care around the nascent woodland.   

I carried more than just the satisfaction of a job well done when I left Gair Wood that day. I had a fresh sense of optimism. This project was an example of the strength of group effort, resulting from hard work and dedication. There is a tonne of potential for future study and biodiversity conservation on this 36-hectare site.   

I realised as I turned to leave that, although the original planting was completed, Gair Wood's journey was far from over.  

Surbhi Thakur.