Swinley Park discovered

Just one of the enormous ancient oaks….

…in the ancient, mediaeval park. The stability of this old tree is greatly helped by that great adventitious root in its cavernous hollow trunk. It has a huge girth, previously measured at over 7m – making it one of Europe’s top trees.

More roots coming down inside this ancient beech tree but these are very different ……..

….from a cuckoo or air tree – a birch that has grown from seed which landed in the crown of this beech and started to grow down through its decaying centre, greedily taking advantage of all the fabulous nutrients and moisture released from the decaying wood.

An ancient lime from the historic avenue collapsed but the tree is still alive as phoenix-like it rises again from suckers from its remnant trunk.

This Scots pine was originally cut during World War II to source tree resin, but someone has recut them recently possibly to keep the evidence of this historic practice alive.

Tree Hay

“It’s the forgotten food – it was a major source of fodder for domestic animals in both summer and winter in the past”

Ted Green

Ted shows us how traditional breeds of cattle and rare breed, Exmoor ponies love his tree fodder, especially in winter when other sources of food more scarce. The tree hay in this case was cut in summer from young trees to create new pollards of ash, cherry, elm, wild service and hazel – in fact any deciduous tree will do. It was stored in tightly tied bundles which helped to keep the leaves green.

The practice of creating tree hay from trees is very ancient. In Ethiopia it is believed to date back 12-14,000 years. In England there is evidence of this practice from sub fossilised pollards from the Trent during gravel extraction – which were carbon dated at 4,400 years old.

Ancient birches

Birch

“Beneath you birch with silver bark

And boughs so pendulous and fair”

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Ancient birch trees have the most wonderful body language in old age. Their trunks and lower horizontal limbs are no longer just round, but become deeply fissured and even rope-like.

The development of such discrete columns of living wood, called functional units, is a strategy for survival. They can be regarded as separate trees, each of which can transport carbohydrates from photosynthesis from the crown down the tree and water and nutrients up from the roots. In some uncommon situations a functional unit can stand alone or break free from the original tree – allowing at least part of the tree to carry on living independently.

Rogalin Palace, Poland – three legendary oaks

Lech, Czech and Rus – three famous oaks ….

Three of the monumental oaks at Rogalin Palace near Poznan are named after three legendary brothers who were said to have founded the Slavic nations: Poland (also known as Lechia), Bohemia (Cechy now known as the Czech Republic) and Ruthenia (Rus which became Russia, Belarus and Ukraine).

It’s a very special place to visit. We feel so lucky to have been taken there following the Tree Assessment Congress run by The Instytut Drzewa in Wroclaw in 2019.

Extramadura – land of tree domes

Landscape of trees in Extramadura

The never ending treescape of Extramadura is full of open grown pollard trees – usually holm oak or cork oak, stretching from horizon to horizon. It’s a treescape on an epic landscape scale. In early spring the flowering of the trees is astonishing – so much pollen, so much potential for autumn fruit.

The trees are managed in this way to maximise production of wood or bark for fuel and cork and acorns for mast to feed the famous pigs for their Iberian ham. This sylvo-pastoral or wood pasture system is a tried and tested practice that has been happening for millennia and has proved itself to be wonderfully sustainable. It’s “two tier agriculture” says Ted – the trees are productive but because their crowns are kept separate and relatively low, it allows plenty of open space for other grazers such as cattle.