In March 2023, the finalists of FWAG’s Silver Pintail Farming and Wildlife Competition were announced at the Boyd Family’s Whittington Lodge Farm in Gloucestershire. A full write-up of this fantastic event, along with details of the overall winner Chris Rumming from Park Farm near Swindon can be found here: Silver Pintail Award 2022 Celebration Event.

At this event, the Silver Pintail judges Richard Appleton and Robin Nicol gave out native Black Poplar saplings to the three finalists which had been carefully grown as whips and were ready to be planted out on these farms. During a fascinating chat with Richard and Robin after the winners had been announced, it also transpired that there were a number of native Black Poplar whips remaining that could also be grown on.

Roll on to late March 2023 and I was en-route to meet Richard and Robin with their car-boot full of these young Black poplars. Robin had kindly emailed beforehand to let me know that he had 18 unrooted ‘pencils’, 2 intermediate unrooted whips, 16 unrooted whips that were about 30 inches in height, and 3 unrooted female whips, making 39 specimens in total. For the longer whips, there was also the option of producing more cuttings of unrooted stock, by dividing in half and planting out the whips. The opportunity to spend time with Richard and Robin, and hear more about their extensive experience of farming and farm advice, was also very much appreciated.

A few hours later, after a very pleasant lunch – again, thank-you to Richard and Robin - I was heading back to Gloucestershire with the whips. My main line of thought was pondering how the local Stroud Allotment would react to the first trees being planted at the site since the land was first leased in 1915! After cutting for those additional whips, I managed a total of 60 male whips and 5 female whips. With a deep layer of young growth woodchip, and in the strong loamy soil of my plot, growing conditions looked good at least.

Fast forward a few months, through the hottest summer on record, and this mini-Black Poplar nursery was growing splendidly! The increased number of whips all quickly established their roots, and were protected for the first few months with canes and spiral guards, along with regular watering sessions either early in the morning or late evening. Regular applications of fresh broadleaf woodchip, produced by a Woodland project supported by the Cotswolds Farming in Protected Landscape Fund, to engage people in bringing neglected coppice and woodlands back into management rotations, has created an amazing growing medium for the young trees. With no losses from the dry weather and pests, for which my daughter Hope has been fantastic at regular slug removal, we now have 65 trees for planting on farms throughout Gloucestershire.

It has also been interested to note reactions from allotment members, who quickly got very interested in the presence of these Black poplars on the site, as well as the nature-focussed approach linked to their growing in a horticultural plot. Unintended consequences have been converting other areas on the site into wildflower plots, using seed harvested from various fields over the summer, and collection of these precious seed to develop these mini meadows over the long-term. Sites for planting out the Black Poplars are now being finalised, with the agreement from land-owners that I can return to take more cuttings as the trees mature, and plant out more specimens at other land-holdings in subsequent years. Efforts are also ongoing to connect with FWAG’s earlier Black Poplar project and its mapping of these trees throughout Gloucestershire is also ongoing, to integrate the young trees grown on this year with earlier specimens identified and grown throughout the county. We can also place female and male trees in close proximity, to allow reproduction and further support Gloucestershire’s Black poplars.

As a tree species, these Black Poplars the most threatened native timber tree in Britain. Across the entire British Isles, there have been significant habitat losses due to land drainage and indiscriminate felling. When these factors are combined with low genetic diversity in the population, the species is less able to respond to threats such as disease, pests and climate change. So the increase of 65 young trees from native tree stock will help to increase the genetic resilience of this species and its future success.

Robin has also kindly offered more Black Poplar whips, to retain the tree stock and increase the number of cuttings, so this small tree nursery can continue over subsequent years.

This gift will enable the nursery to expand, and also perhaps act as a catalyst for other sites to join in, especially those which aren’t traditionally used for this purpose, such as allotments and parks – even small gardens - that could all accommodate young trees for a few years before planting out!

Preparing the ground and marking out growing areas


 Newly unfurling leaves / Early May, topping out the tree guards


Red Admiral resting on a female black poplar leaf / Current height (5 ½ feet as of Sept 2023 from a 20 inch female whip planted in March 2023)

Wildflower meadow with Yellow rattle well established