The last week or so, I have been away from the academy for a break, but nevertheless, recruitment is moving ahead, and our first group have completed their interviews, and been signed up by their companies.
Now the hard work starts!
FOCUS on………. Veteran Trees
I have been up to Wales for a few days in search of old trees.
As I have said many times, we are very lucky in these islands to have a relatively large number of ancient and veteran trees, in fact the highest concentration in Northern Europe. A lot of our old trees are well known locally, but not necessarily nationally, or even outside of a village. We rub along beside these green monuments, sometimes completely unaware of their existence, but every now and again they come to prominence, either because someone has ‘discovered’ them, or more sadly because they are in decline or have died. There are lots of theories as to why we have such a large number here, from ancient tradition stemming from tree worship from prehistory, to religious significance and taboo.
Whatever the reason, we are simply very lucky people.
These trees are not just old, they are a living link to our past. Many have stories, or legends attached to them, and whether they are true or not, it doesn’t matter, it is symbolic of the importance that people put upon these trees. I just think to simply stand with something that was here long before the Vikings landed in Britain, or was already a thousand years old when Queen Elizabeth the First was on the throne, is awesome in itself.
They are living monuments worthy of understanding and protection, but quite often they are an afterthought in the corner of a churchyard, field, housing estate or hedge. A lot of them have no official protection at all, and could be destroyed in minutes with a chainsaw, but thankfully there are some people out there who identify and care for these veterans, and some very clued up landowners who see these trees for what they are, and not something that gets in the way of a plough, extension or driveway.
Rather than just reading this blog, however, the best thing to do is to just get out there and visit these trees, I can’t do justice to just how magnificent these ancient creatures are here, and quite often it is not just the tree, but the surroundings, back-story and form that take your breath away.
On our trip, we used Archie Miles’s ‘Heritage Trees of Wales’ as a guide, and I have included here a few examples of what we saw.
The tree is completely hollow, you can get inside it- it is an odd experience being inside a living 700 year old tree. It is a beautiful ancient wood sculpture inside, having been carved by fungi, animals and water over centuries. There is so much room inside that a local band have actually performed a gig in it.
The tree has Beefsteak fungus growing, which has no doubt contributed to the hollowing out, but that does not necessarily mean that it will harm the tree.
There is still plenty of growth on this old oak, but it is clearly declining, fortunately with oaks, decline can take centuries!
If you are interested in trees like this, there are several organisations you can join, and guides you can get hold of. The Ancient Tree Forum and The Tree Council both do walks and talks, and have an active membership that seeks out and promotes the preservation of these special trees.
The main thing that will preserve them for the future, is awareness of their presence, and appreciation of their special status as well as the ongoing management requirements of these old trees. Sometimes work needs to be done to keep them going especially where, for instance, a tree has had its longevity partly maintained by various management practices such as pollarding and coppicing. Usually cutting certain species back in particular ways, over time, extends their lifespan, and a lot of old trees have been cut back regularly over hundreds of years. Sometimes leaving them puts strain on the fragile stem structures and they fail… they end up being killed by kindness!!
Mostly, though, we lose these trees through ignorance, and sometimes through malice.
I particularly remember a lady who wanted a very old ash pollard removed from her garden, a stunning old tree, and one that most people would make a feature of. Instead, this lady despised it and we arranged a meeting between her and the Arboricultural Officer in the vain hope that either she would see sense, or he would prevent its removal.
He said to her: “Why would you want to remove such a beautiful old tree?”
She replied: “If that’s your idea of beauty I would hate to see your wife!”
Needless to say that it ultimately did not end well for the tree, when people really hate something that much, they will stop at nothing to get their way. These old veterans suffer vandalism, poisoning, felling and neglect. They deserve so much better- 400 years of life snuffed out because someone doesn’t like what you look like?......
Importantly though, these trees are here through a combination of blind chance and random care. The veterans of tomorrow, are the seedlings of today. That little tree at the bottom of the garden, that seedling on the roadside, that acorn that a squirrel hid in your flowerpot, could potentially be any of the trees above, but when you think about the chances of any tree making it through the next ten years, never mind 2000- you can’t but help admire how these magnificent trees got to still be here today.
Grazing animals, chainsaws, herbicides, storms, pests and diseases, fires, climate change- the odds are so very much stacked against them, it’s a surprise there are any of them here at all.