Set in 18th century, grade II listed parkland, Knightshayes Court hosts an impressive collection of both ornamental and native trees.
Within the parkland ancient and veteran holly, English oaks and sweet chestnuts can be found alongside notable non-native specimens including Turkey oaks, giant redwoods and Douglas fir, all of which are believed to be some of the first to be introduced to the UK. Throughout the grounds there are 50 Ancient, Veteran and Notable Trees and 18 National Champions, which provide important habitats for epiphytic lichens, saproxylic invertebrates and bats.
One such champion is the Knightshayes holly, (Ilex aquifolium) which is estimated at over 400 years old. At 12m tall and with a diameter of 230cm, it is a National Champion. Now managed by the National Trust, the parkland was once believed to be a medieval deer park before becoming a farmstead in 1610. During this time the Holly was planted as a hedgerow tree for a trackway leading to the original farm. Folklore suggests that holly trees within hedgerows were commonly left unpruned as they stopped witches from running up and down the hedge. Along with the superstition that it is unlucky to fell a holly tree, this may account for the holly tree remaining, whilst the hedgerow has long since been removed.
Through the years the holly has received little in the way of management, which has probably contributed to its magnificent size and form. The National Trust has adopted a policy of minimal intervention, in order to allow the tree to produce a natural form. However, in 2007 the crown had become sparse as a result of compaction from sheep and browsing from deer. Following the installation of stock fencing in 2009, the Holly has begun growing vigorously and produced a fuller crown, befitting its age and size. Although the holly is a male specimen and so does not produce berries, it displays a subtle but beautiful show of flowers.
As an ancient specimen the holly has become an important habitat for a variety of both specialist and generalist wildlife. The foliage displays signs of the Holly leaf miner (Phytomyza ilicis), a species which can cause dieback in the crown of holly trees, but is controlled by predation from blue tits and parasitic wasps. The holly flower buds are the food plant for the first brood larvae of the Holly blue butterfly, the adults of which can be seen dazzling through the surrounding parkland during the summer months. The lichen assemblage is relatively poor due to the previous removal of the surrounding hedgerow, which in turn altered the microclimatic conditions of the holly bark. However, deadwood throughout the tree hosts a variety of saprophytic fungi and invertebrates.
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