Rob Lee from Forestart only talks in big numbers. As a tenant on the Sansaw Estate, Forestart is a premier supplier of tree and shrub seed and works alongside the estate team to harvest seed for various species. In return, trees are planted – often from the first seeds produced from breeding programs Forestart is involved with – to produce better quality timber trees in the future and plant trees in return.
The volumes are staggering.
“In the autumn we have up to a billion seeds in storage,” Rob reveals. “We sell by the weight, so a kilo of acorns might be 200 seeds per kilo whereas a kilo of heather seeds might contain 50 million.
“The main crop we harvest from Sansaw is Yew seed which is used to grow trees in the UK and particularly Europe. There are probably a million plants per year grown from the Sansaw source. Much of it in Europe is grown for hedging, there are then concerted efforts to harvest hedge trimmings for the extraction of Taxol which is used by the pharmaceutical industry to treat cancer.
“We also look after a small orchard on the estate where we harvest seed of various species, as part of this there are some very fine oak trees developing for a final crop for the estate in 100 years time.”
Driving around the lanes near to the estate office, you will also see a growing number of wild flowers rearing their heads at the foot of the trunks. That’s also thanks to Rob and his team.
“We started a wild flower department three years ago because we have all the storage and processing equipment suited for tree seeds which also work for wild flowers. Market research suggested there were quality issues within the industry related to storage and there were shortages in supply of rarer species often referred to as indicator species which are harder to grow.”
Although production is still in the development stage a total harvest of up to 1000kg is expected for 2019.
While Rob’s job is perfect for the man who has an interest in all things attached to the natural world, it’s not without its perils.
“There are lots of things to consider in this industry, chiefly trying to reduce imports into the UK because that’s how Ash Chalara, the disease which is killing off millions of ash trees around Europe, came to these shores.
“There are more diseases on the horizon and one we all fear is xylella which has devastated olive trees in Europe but kills a whole range of species. We all need-to take on collective responsibility to ensure this disease does not enter the UK and for our part we need to supply seed to the UK nursery and forestry industry from disease-free sources in the UK.”
Yet the threats were a little closer to home during a trip to Georgia. Forestart provides a lot of the seed used in Christmas tree production with Georgia being the home of the Nordmann Fir, the most popular yuletide tree.
“Around 20 years ago, not long after the civil war had ended, I went over to try and do business but the first handful of seed I picked up to check the quality was riddled with sniper buillets,” Rob recalls.
“I went to meet seed dealers with US Dollars – the only accepted means of payment – taped to my chest. Despite being a victim of bribery at road blocks, airports and customs we did manage to bring over to the first ton of seeds. An extraordinary time and the only real danger experienced was the home brew!”
For more information about Forestart go to www.forestart.co.uk or ring 01939 210638.