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More Hedge Plants Please

Ray Jenkins is a man in a hurry, and he needs his pick-up mended. When we visited his new native plant nursery on the Welsh border last week things were winding down after his first growing season, which was just as well as he was without his wheels. 

Ray and Andrei in the grading shed

Ray is at the sharp end of things. He's an industry veteran who has set up on his own after many years at Wyevale Nurseries, one of the biggest nurseries in the UK. He has seen some pretty grim times for growers of native plants here, who have spent most of the last two decades either going bust or at best burning unwanted stock at the end of the season. Cheap imports and uninformed and unreliable buyers have killed them. 

Now things are very different. 

When I set up Habitat Aid in 2008 a lot of people in the industry thought our usp - UK origin and grown native plants and seeds - was a cross so heavy to bear that it would crush us. Consumers didn't generally care where their plants came from, but even if they did they couldn't easily find out. 

There's now huge demand for native plants for woodland and hedging, particularly plants grown here from UK origin seed. Hurrah! Even DEFRA has caught up with the need for hedging, hugely increasing grants for planting and targets for new hedges. 

Brexit has made plant imports trickier, and people are more sensitive now to messages about plant health and the need to maintain local plant populations as much as possible. This is all terrific, but where on earth are all these new plants coming from? 

You can quickly see who's actually growing these plants in the UK, and there aren't that many nurseries doing it. The Forestry Commission now gives capital grants to growers, which is HUGELY helpful, but it's taking time to gear up production. It's exciting seeing new community nurseries springing up too, but they can't get close to meeting the kind of demand there is nationally. And as for the commercial supply of seed... 

Climate change is making things even more difficult. 2022 was a challenging season for established growers, let alone for someone in their first growing season. Ray was well able to deal with it; he has expertise, a lot of good ground, water, kit and skilled labour. Others were less lucky. 

We visited RJ Trees and Hedging at their base near Ross-on-Wye last week to hear more. Ray has ambitious targets - he wants to have 5 million plants in cultivation. Since we've been trading there hasn't been a new grower on the scene approaching this size, and it's beyond exciting that demand is there to support these plans. He's Plant Healthy certified too, which is great.

We're really looking forward to doing business with him, and relieved to find such a good new source of just the kind of plants we need. Hedges are such an important habitat for us to promote. We'll be back to see him in the summer to see how next season's plants are growing on and have a ride in his pick-up.