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In 2000, the farm was visited by an advisor from the Westcountry Rivers Trust who made a number of recommendations to help protect the river environment. One of these was to take an area of land next to the river out of grazing owing to rapid rates of bank erosion that was exacerbated by stock access. We were losing several meters of bank each year.

The area was immediately fenced and over 1500 fast growing Salix viminalis willow setts were planted to help hold the banks but also provide an alternative income from the area. The willows were planted close together in long rows to encourage them to grow tall and straight to provide rods for a variety of uses. Annual cutting (coppicing) encourages multiple stems to grow. We have used some of the willow to weave into living willow revetments to hold the riverbank together (see below).

Willow Revetment
Willow Revetment

We harvest the willow sticks, called rods, annually to use and sell for planting as living screens, wind breaks, woven fences, trellises, bowers, arches, tunnels and other garden features. Dried rods can be used to make plant supports and woven hurdles. This willow is not suitable for basketry as it grows too quickly and is too big by the end of the growing season.

We don’t use any sprays around the willows, especially as it is next to the river, so they do require regular manual weed control to reduce competition for water and nutrients for growth. As they have grown over the years they have begun to shade out the ground vegetation naturally.

We also have a small patch of brightly coloured willow that is suitable for basketry (pictured below). Colours range from bright yellow, orange, olive green, dark brown to deep purple.

Coloured willow
First patch of coloured willows for basketry