We wander around every day past history. I expect that if you were to walk through a quaint little village up on the downs or somewhere similar, you would be impressed by the buildings that are a couple of hundred years old, marvel at the history they have been part of. Even more so when looking at our cathedrals and castles, stately homes that have seem changes over the last two, three, four hundred years. This is however not an every day occurrence for most of us.
I bet more often you pass a tree, such as an oak, that predates all of these old buildings and yet we take no heed of them. They blend seamlessly into the background, filling in the space on the horizon that we expect to be there, maybe even comforting us subliminally, harking back to our ancestral days in the wildwood.
How amazing these trees are though. We are particularly blessed in the Solent area due to our long maritime history where the planting of Oak was encouraged to build the mighty warships that floated the empire and protected this little isle. They pop up everywhere and there will undoubtedly be a three hundred year old oak near you somewhere. Other trees gain such enormous stature that to stand under them is truly a humbling experience. For instance, there is a pine on the road not far from our offices that sits just off the road running from botley to wickham. Hundreds of people drive past it every day, thousands maybe. A smaller but no less significant number stroll within feet of it’s towering trunk and yet a minor percentage of them will look up and be awed, think about the size of it and how long it has taken to grow and what in it’s lifetime it has seen. This pine is ornamental and so was planted by somebody maybe with the intention of crowning the top of the hill it is on. This it has achieved magnificently.
Where I used to work in Gosport, there was an estate called Rowner. This was your typical estate, concrete punctuated by grass amenity pitches. However, despite all the odds, several trees had persisted, one of which was one of the biggest coppiced oaks that I have seen, its base an intricate woven mass of the coppiced limbs. An absolute cracker of a tree, sat in the middle of a sports pitch. Big trees are everywhere if you look. Field boundaries, old lanes, cemeteries are all good places.
I visited Mottisfont last weekend to see the London Plane tree. This is a giant and as impressive a tree as I have seen in the UK. I like London Planes, interestingly a hybrid between an Oriental and American Plane and has the ability to absorb and store pollution. The crazy thing was that just outside the ground, down the aptly named Oakley Lane, was an Oak of a thousand years old and a true veteran of a tree, as impressive, if not more, than the Plane, but going undetected by 99% of the people that go there.
The term veteran is used when referring to old trees that exhibit the signs of decay, such as rot, broken limbs, holes, dead bits. These sound bad but in a tree that is seeing out the end of it’s days, this provides so many niches for so many species to thrive. No truer is this than in Oak trees who support the most species in our country. It doesn’t mean that they have to be a thousand years old. It is dependent on the tree species. For example, the Birch is a short lived species, so a hundred year old Birch could be considered a veteran, but in a Beech or an Oak, this would barely be in it’s teenage years.
Despite these special trees being around they are under severe pressure, especially older ones, and there are several schemes working at the moment to record and save them. The tree charter is an excellent one (https://treecharter.uk/) as is the ancient tree hunt with the Woodland Trust (http://www.ancient-tree-hunt.org.uk/). These allow you to get involved and easily record the old trees around you and have your say on what you think about our woods and old trees. Looking at the map of the area that I live in, there are very few recorded.
So, next time you wander down a field boundary or through a wood, stop and think about those trees that you are passing and vision what they themselves have seen pass below their canopy, think about what we can do to allow them to persevere, maybe record them. Maybe even give them a hug, not that I have ever done that 🙂