Tree moving gains ground

A weak pound and improved replanting techniques are aiding the popularity of tree moving, writes Kris Collins.

Businesses offering tree-moving and replanting services are reporting good advanced bookings for projects as they move towards the traditional transplanting season of October-November. And with current market conditions and growing portfolios of successful projects under their belts, many are optimistic for the future for this growing side of their businesses.

There has always been a voice within horticulture quick to attack the viability of tree-moving projects. Yet while technology has changed little in terms of moving machinery, Practicality Brown managing director Alastair Biddell says replanting techniques have moved forward with better aftercare to improve success rates, and he expects to see demand for transplanting grow in coming years.

He said: "Our business 20 years ago was centred around moving people's own trees but this moved to selling our clients imported stock. With market conditions as they are I think we are going to see a turn around. We are still transplanting a lot of trees from the nursery rather than moving the clients' own stocks but I can see this side expanding as we move forward partly due to the forecasted recession and partly because of the strength of the euro."

Transplanting remains ancillary to the company's main tree and hedging supply, accounting for 5-10 per cent of turnover, but it is an important area for the Buckinghamshire-based business and attracts some high-profile clients, including RHS Chelsea Flower Show designers and architects. On nurseries and in young woodland with trees under 30cm, the company's 1.1m tree spade is popular for its manoeuvrability, while its large 3m spade is called on for moving mature specimens up to 1.5m in girth.

Nature First has reported a busy schedule for this autumn. The Gloucester business operates a comprehensive fleet of modern tree spades, producing rootballs of 85cm to 3m. Trees over 1.5m girth can be catered for using specialist equipment designed by Nature First's tree-moving experts.

With a cost saving of up to 90 per cent against the price of bringing in mature trees of the same size, transplanting trees looks set to become the chosen option where budgets and spending are tight.

Not all parks, gardens and amenity sites have a ready supply of trees waiting to be moved so nurseries are seeing strong demand for mature specimens. But with wetter, milder autumns raising water tables in the past few season, site damage can be a problem when ordering large stock.

Majestic Trees has experienced muddier projects and more difficult planting conditions in the past couple of years. To combat the situation, the Hertfordshire-based firm has made a heavy investment in new kit to meet the demands of wetter planting conditions. Managing director Steve McCurdy says the addition of the Morooka MST800VD with large Cormach crane has practically eliminated any damage to surfaces when moving on site thanks to its "ultra-light ground pressure" that is less than half that caused by the average person on foot. The Morooka's hydrostatic transmission allows for both tracks to slip and the tracks being made of rubber minimises ground damage. McCurdy says the machine "virtually tiptoes" across lawns when driven over a lightweight matting, even when carrying large trees.

Here, we highlight three projects that prove transplanting mature trees is a viable, cost efficient process.


Practicality Brown had a point to prove when it took on works to restore an historical avenue of trees at Wentworth Castle. Project designers came up against negative feedback to proposals to utilise mature stocks of oak trees growing on site and Practicality Brown was the only company approached that would commit to the project.

Owner Hilary Taylor of Hilary Taylor Landscape Associates explains: "Immediate impact was of importance and drove the need for the transplant of these large specimens but we also wanted to use the indigenous material to meet the brief, which strongly required stocks of native origin. Most of the oak trees in the vicinity of Wentworth are Quercus robur, whereas those originally used for the avenue were obviously imported Q. petraea, presumably used for their more stately and straight appearance.

"Fortunately for us, a past conservation officer replanted some seedlings from original avenue trees about 20 years ago. They were a bit of a mix - some were hybridised but we found enough Q. petraea that had been taken up as seedlings and replanted."

Practicality Brown managing director Alastair Biddell adds: "There was opposition from quite eminent horticulturists brought in as consultants - head gardeners at other sites included - who felt Hilary Taylor was mad to be spending the client's and the public's money on moving trees that would soon fail once in the new location, believing tree moving never worked. This just gave more impetus as we then felt we had a point to prove.

"We used a 3m spade to move trees 30cm in diameter. Any remaining gaps were filled with smaller oaks of UK provenance. The only other option would have been to import German-grown oaks and we would have seen slightly different leaf formations and the client was against importing trees for the project. On larger trees like these locally sourced oaks a lot more aftercare is needed in comparison to lifting and moving smaller 7cm- to 10cm-diameter nursery trees."

Now 15 months after the project was completed, all the oaks are still doing well. Taylor says: "Practicality Brown brought in its tree spade and the work was done quickly. We then worked with local farmers and Practicality to ensure a good watering regime was put in place. Over a year later all trees are still standing and looking healthy.

"Given the extent of the original opposition to the project it's been a great success. This was the only way to get the immediate impact we were looking for as well as being able to use the trees we already had maturing on site."


Ruskins operations director Robert Wilkins says the repeat business the company receives for its transplanting services at Fynn Valley Golf Club in Suffolk is proof enough of the viability of transplanting mature trees.

The Essex-based tree and shrub specialist has worked with the club on an annual basis for the past 15 years, lifting trees from the club's shelter belt and replanting them around the course to define fairways and holes. Unusually Ruskins carries this work out in September each year when the plants are still green, where general consensus among the industry is to leave lifting operations until trees go into their dormant phase.

Using a 2.16m tree spade the company can move and replant an average of 12 trees with a 30-40cm girth in a day. Wilkins says: "Suffolk is one of the driest parts of the country and yet we successfully move trees on the golf course in September when still in leaf. The timing of operations means that only a short irrigation regime is needed before the plants move into their autumn phase where autumn and then winter conditions are good enough to ensure the trees' survival. Our timings ensure the trees have the longest time possible to adjust before the hot, dry weather of the following summer.

"Our client redefines fairways and holes using trees from its shelter belt and our services then tackle two jobs at once, while saving up to 90 per cent on the cost of buying in new trees. As well as shaping the course, we are also thinning out the shelter belt, which does need to be done regularly for the health of the trees. This has environmental benefits too in terms of recycling and sustainability - you can't justify chopping down trees that could be put to good use elsewhere.

"Fortunately, the client has lots of common sense and it's second nature for him to know what they need in terms of aftercare, which has ensured the survival of the trees moved."


It's not just the dormant months when trees can successfully be moved from one site to another. In April 2007 UPM Tilhill moved 11 mature lime trees as part of the first phase of works to restore the historic landscape at Priory Park, Reigate, Surrey.

The translocation was the first practical stage in a year-long process to restore the park to its 18th-century glory. The lime trees, planted in the 1970s, lined a path set to be re-routed through the park. With an average girth in excess of 1m, the trees were selected for their quality and importance to the park and were replanted in copse formation to retain the maturity of the landscape within this environmentally sensitive scheme.

"It is always a pleasure and a privilege to be involved in the restoration of an historic landscape," says UPM Tilhill commercial director Peter Middleton. "At Priory Park we had a wonderful opportunity to help bring an 18th-century landscape to life on a grand scale."

To ensure the survival of the trees, a full aftercare regime was put in place, which, according to UPM Tilhill contracts manager Andy Harris, is vital in any lifting project - it is never just a case of getting machinery on site, moving the tree and then moving on to the next job. He said: "Aftercare is critical with regard to the success of transplanted trees. If the correct maintenance regime is applied, success rates as high as 90-95 per cent can be achieved. Prior to the relocation of the 11 mature lime trees at Priory Park, the crowns were thinned by approximately 25 per cent.

"Following relocation, each tree was irrigated weekly throughout the first two growing seasons. In addition, spring and autumn feeds were applied and mulching was maintained around the rootball area, which was kept weed free."

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