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Willow Project

June 9, 2012


Willow pollards on the Dover Beck recorded by Dawn Chorus volunteers, 2010.

It is interesting to follow the landscape changes, as the becks & rivers run from the dumble valleys to the flat flood planes of the river Trent where, in places, riverine tree fauna has been lost to agricultural development.

Mapping the willows helps us to understand the importance of linear habitats. Rivers (& hedges, see our project,”understanding & using hedgerows” looking at everything from food & dye stuffs to surveying & encouraging sustainable management) can be link-corridors for species, reduce fragmentation & islandisation of habitats; so important in the face of climate change & development pressures. We all enjoy reserves but they can be wildlife ghettos if isolated. Vibrant character landscapes at landscape level are essential.

Dumble springs can give rise to becks cutting small islands & changing paths in the steep-sided clay ravines with hanging ancient woodland. Here we find hazel, elder, ash, oak, blackthorn, hawthorn, alder, maple, crabapple, damson, bullace, dogwood, guelder rose & poplars, whilst all along the becks we find sallow, osier & hybrid willows whose roots prevent river bank erosion as the species colonizes.Willow seeds float off, needing to germinate within a few days in damp soil. Twigs break off & are carried down stream where they root easily.


Above: one of the great ancient willow pollards on the Dover Beck recorded by our volunteers in 2012. Below: new willow pollard made 2015.



Above: willow wood piles, following pollarding.

Crack willows (distinguished by a coarse toothed leaf edge, brittle twigs & grey bark) & white willows (high in natural “aspirin” salicin beneath the bark) often hybridise; an example being the cricket bat willow – so difficult to grow commercially due to watermarking.

Mature & ancient pollards can have huge knobbly girths. Our CEO has managed pollarding schemes over the last eleven years, reinstating skills & the multiple habitat benefits of the management method. We have also been active in a wide range of wet habitat creation and conservation. Below: riverbank restoration.



Willows recorded by Dawn Chorus volunteers: above on the Cocker Beck 2013 and below on the Dover Beck 2014.


The silvery moon sheen leaves of white willow build up in the narrow crowned species & with the deeply fissured bark, help these trees to form mini nature reserves, with aphids, leaf beetles, gall wasps, weevils & sawflies on the leaves & long tailed tits calling from the tops of the pollards.

Crack willows split easily. Cracks contain soft, disintegrating wood chips, ideal for cozy, secret nest sites. While storm torn branches falling across dumble banks, make natural bridges from which we can watch the wake of water voles & twitching plants as they make for the bank-side burrows.

Smaller sallow willows, known by the popular pussy willows & rounder leaves, are also keen to hybridise. They are happy on high dumble banks & on drier open bank sides, eg: bushy common sallow/grey willow & wrinkle leaved round-eared willow, likes the acid sandy soil near to Gunthorpe. Sallows have had many uses. The early nectar was of use to beekeepers. Willow has often been cut for fodder in droughts; this is how goat willow was named. Sallows are one of the oldest tree species in the UK, so have had much time to hybridise…hence the many local forms. Below: Trent side willow stands.



The hybrids were often preferred for specific uses: from prehistoric times they have been used for wattles & basketry. They were used for tax receipt tallies (a split withy joined exactly, each party retained one half as proof. Parliament burned down when the “willow archives” were cleared to make way for modern systems, too many tallies were thrown onto the furnace at once), artists’ charcoal, harness traces & plant propagation: willows give off root promoting hormones in water, slips were put into containers with plant cuttings.
Since 2004, Dawn Chorus volunteers have been recording willow pollards in the Dover Beck & Cocker Beck valleys & across the dumbles of Nottinghamshire, propagating plants from traditional East Midland basket willow varieties, such as the Basford Yellow Willow.
In the dumble wet ditches, rivers and streams, our volunteers record water shrews, water voles, narrow-leaved water plantain, kingfisher, winter cress, water crowfoot and burnet; in more open stretches near the Trent we can see grey heron & oyster catchers, egret and even glossy ibis and divers …what do you see?

The River Trent at Hoveringham.


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  2. Thankyou for helping out, excellent information.

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