After the tragic circumstances that unfortunately lead to the death of Sir Richard Sutton in April, his family and staff of Sir Richard Sutton Ltd (SRSL) decided to plant a memorial woodland in his name.
After managing the woodlands on Sir Richard’s estate in Berkshire for some years, David Hunt, company Director at Wessex Woodland Management Ltd was asked to help in the management of the memorial, which was accepted without hesitation.
I had just joined the team at Wessex Woodland Management Ltd in April 2021 and David Hunt (company director) asked me to come along to a meeting with the team from Benham Estate to discuss the memorial planting for Sir Richard. I took my pad and pen to take notes and thought of some questions that might be worth asking about the design they were looking for. I was busy scribbling down some notes when I was taken by surprise by the announcement from David that I was to be in charge of the design and mapping of the memorial. Of course I was happy to be given the responsibility, a chance to prove myself! Maybe this was a test… an initiation to Wessex… whatever the case I needed to crack on.
The idea for the memorial was to have an area of woodland with mown rides throughout to allow relatives and SRSL staff to have a peaceful walk and a chance to remember. A large oak was to be planted to represent Sir Richard with another 8 standard trees planted, each one to represent a family member of Sir Richard. The rest of the woodland would be made up of 70 trees, largely mixed native broadleaves with some native conifers and also some non-native ornamental trees to introduce some extra colour and some interest. The number of 70 trees was chosen for a reason. SRSL has 70 staff working across the estate, including the farming and hospitality side and the outstanding idea that came from the SRSL managers was to make the planting of the woodland an event. A day would be chosen later in the year when family members and all staff would be invited to come and plant their tree in the memorial and socialise over a hog roast. Having everyone plant their own tree will surely make it a much more personal event and is a great idea.
Another idea from the SRSL managers was to have part of the field right next to the memorial prepared and planted with native wildflowers. A path running through the memorial could also lead into the wildflower meadow and in the spring and summer this would create a beautiful space for family, friends and staff to spend some time.
To enhance the planting further David Hunt also committed to donating a range of shrubs to the planting scheme, at the expense of WWM, to help give the design depth, structure and some additional year-round colour.
To the drawing board!
The first step was to measure out the field to see what we were dealing with. When considering a 4m strip at the edges of the field to allow for maintenance of the existing hedge we have 60m to play with width-wise and 100m in length for the planting (north/south). It was then to the drawing board to sketch some scale plans.
The initial plan that was discussed with SRSL was a union flag style layout with a large English oak in the middle of the planting, to represent Sir Richard himself, with radiating rides leading to another 8 standard trees to represent Sir Richard’s family members. The other 70 trees to represent employees of SRSL would be planted in the remaining areas outwith the rides.
It was quickly discovered from the scale drawings that this initial plan would not leave enough space for the 70 employee trees. A 20m diameter circle was allowed for Sir Richard’s tree and for all the other trees to be planted with spacings of between 7m and 9m. This is standard practice and would allow the trees enough space to grow up and not be shaded out. With this in mind I got to work with a couple of other designs to present to managers at SRSL. To my delight they were happy with one of the designs I suggested and it was on to the next phase!
A species list was compiled for the planting , based on the wishes of the team at SRSL, the country of origin, foliage retention, foliage and flower colour at different times of year and nursery availability.
With a few months before planting is scheduled the next step is to go to the site and map out the rides and main trees so that these areas can be mowed in preparation for planting.