Trees have had a tough time during the last 100 years.
Only by nurturing the seed of enthusiasm year after year will we be able to cultivate a lasting environmental legacy in our parks, streets, woods and green spaces
First came Dutch elm disease in the 1920s, a fungal pathogen that killed tens of millions of elm trees in Britain, spread by beetles it continues to be a serious threat. Fast forward to today and another fungus is on the verge of causing mass destruction among another of our tree species. This time the tree under threat is ash and the pathogen is ash dieback.
“Ash dieback has shown us what can happen to one species and will change our landscape just as much as Dutch elm disease did,” says Pauline Buchanan Black, director general of The Tree Council.
It has the potential to cause significant damage to the population and may now already be too late to prevent. But there is something we can all do to try and offset these losses to our landscapes and neighbourhoods and that's plant a tree.
And The Tree Council are hoping as many of us as possible take part in this year's annual National Tree Week. It was inaugurated in 1975, explains Ms Buchanan Black, to "make Britain more tree-conscious, encourage tree planting and value non-forest stock" after Dutch elm disease had irrevocably changed the landscape.
Now with forty years of successful growth behind it, she says, “National Tree Week has become firmly rooted in the calendar and its anniversary will give communities and tree planters everywhere plenty to celebrate.”
This year National Tree Week runs from 28 Nov to 6 Dec, when thousands of people are encouraged to plant millions of trees. “But only by nurturing the seed of enthusiasm year after year will we be able to cultivate a lasting environmental legacy in our parks, streets, woods and green spaces,” Ms Buchanan Black tells BBC Earth.
To highlight this year’s tree-planting event we have taken inspiration from The Tree Council’s Tree of the Month (#TreeOfTheMonth) series to showcase some truly stunning British trees, each with their own story to tell.
We hope this awareness of how trees tell the stories of our heritage and culture will help slow down the rate of loss, but we still need to plant the ancient trees of the future
“With the Magna Carta anniversary and the celebrations around the Ankerwyke Yew earlier this year, more people know what an important part trees have played in history.
“We hope this awareness of how trees tell the stories of our heritage and culture will help slow down the rate of loss, but we still need to plant the ancient trees of the future,” says Ms Buchanan Black.
The Much Marcle yew can be found in a churchyard in Herefordshire; it has a girth of over 9m at 1.4m from the ground. It is reported to have been planted around the year 500, making it over 1,500 years old. The classic hollow shape of an ancient tree like this is made by sulphur polypore, also known as sulphur shelf, a fungus that rots the heartwood.
This impressive sweet chestnut is found on the grounds of Kateshill House in Bewdley, Worcestershire. The girth is currently over 10m and growing, with a spread of over a quarter of an acre, with one branch extending over 23m from the tree. It was reputedly planted in the middle of the 16th Century.
The famous Croft Castle sweet chestnut avenue stretches for 1km and is said to have been planted from nuts salvaged from captured Spanish Armada vessels around 1592, and are therefore over 400 years old. The story goes that they represent the formal battle plan of the ships at the Armada.
The monumental Cage Pollard has been recognised as one of 50 Great British trees by The Tree Council. The hollow tree with its ‘bars’ has a girth reported to be over 5m, it is in woods of Burnham Beeches on Farnham Common, Buckinghamshire. Beech trees can live up to 500 years and are often hollow hulks, like this.
The Great Holker lime, on the estate of Holker Hall in Cumbria, is another magnificent specimen to make it into a list of Britain’s top 50 great trees and it’s easy to see why. It is the UK’s largest common lime with an impressive girth of 8m and is over 400 years old.
The woods at Kingley Vale nature reserve in West Sussex have some of the finest examples of twisted yew trees in Western Europe; the grove of ancient trees is among the oldest living things in Britain. On chalky soils like this, yew woodland can become the dominant vegetation.
Next to a church in Surrey grows the Crowhurst yew, it’s an ancient tree, probably well over 1,500 years old and has many stories to tell. First measured and described in 1630 parish records, it now has a girth of over 10m. The origins of the door into the hollow trunk are unknown, but rumour has it the local innkeeper wanted an extra room for guests; in 1820 a cannon ball from the civil war of 1643 was found inside the hollow trunk.
Potentially over 1,200 years old, the celebrated Tortworth sweet chestnut is in a meadow on the Tortworth Estate, Gloucestershire and is a small wood in its own right. The girth is an epic 12m and the legend goes that it was planted from a nut during the reign of King Egbert in 800 AD. It is one of The Tree Council’s 50 Great British trees.
At 2,000 years old this coppiced tree at Westonbirt Arboretum in Gloucestershire is thought to be Britain's oldest small-leaved lime. Coppicing is the traditional method of woodland management, where the trees are cut back and the stumps allowed to regenerate for a number of years; this lime was last coppiced in November 2012 on a 20 year cycle.
Started in 1694 the world famous topiary gardens at Levens Hall, Cumbria are home to many geometric- and abstract-shaped trees, such as this umbrella yew. Yew is a favourite for the skilled practice of clipping trees and shrubs into clearly defined shapes, known as topiary.
And with the festive season rapidly approaching, a special mention goes to the holly tree. Some ancient specimens can reach a height of 22m and live for over 300 years and being slow growing it can take 20 years to produce the first show of flowers. Both male and female trees have white flowers, but only females have the colourful berries.
If we remain vigilant, look after what we have, keep planting and enthuse our children to join in, we will have more to be hopeful about
There are still, however, many threats facing our trees in the future explains Ms Buchanan Black: a changing climate and extreme weather events may conspire to make less favourable conditions and diseases may gain footholds where they are not currently present.
“But if we remain vigilant, look after what we have, keep planting and enthuse our children to join in, we will have more to be hopeful about.”
If you would like to take part and plant the trees of the future then activities and workshops around the country can be found on The Tree Council’s interactive map.
“National Tree Week reminds us all that we need to replant now, for a generation not yet born,” she said.
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