5th May 2016
ATF East Anglia group visit to Ickworth
Sally Clark joined the ATF East Anglia group in April for their field visit, led by Ted Green, to see the tea party oak and other ancient and veteran trees at Ickworth in Suffolk.
‘The park is fine. The ground nobly broke into hill and dale, it is piled round it a deep rich soil, there are fine hanging woods and lawn.’ Duchess of Northumberland c. 1770
Ickworth was the family home of the Hervey family for some 500 years, but since 1956 it has been in the care of the National Trust, and it was thanks to Martin, Dee and Sean that the ATF was able gain an insight into how the trust are managing this vast and varied site.
Ickworth park has an astounding collection of veteran trees, and may well be one of the most important collections in the UK, rivalling other great sites such as Windsor Great Park.
One its more famous residents is the 800 year old Tea Party Oak (pictured below), so called because the children from nearby Horringer village would gather beneath it to hold tea parties, a custom which lasted some 50 years. However, on a particularly wet and windy April morning, it was not school children, but a devote group of ‘ancient tree disciples’ who congregated to hear the teachings of their spiritual leader Ted Green.
Reg Harris, one of the ATF trustees, dutifully herded the cold but enthusiastic group between the widely spaced veterans dotted across the parkland’s rolling slopes.
The trees at Ickworth formed an important part of Reg’s early arboricultural career and now, as one of the few practioners specialising in veteran tree management, he continues to have an input in the works to safeguard the future of these important trees.
What appears to be a medieval deer park is actually an 18th century expansion of an existing 13th century estate. Perhaps Lancelot Brown consciously incorporated these great trees into the parkland to lend a sense of scale and history, but it is their future which was the subject of much discussion.
Several issues were discussed, namely the importance of striking a balance between the needs of a working estate, which during lambing season is home to some 3000 sheep, and that of preserving the unique habitat which trees of nature provide.
There is a pressure to manage the parkland in line with an 18th ethos, however our understanding has moved on, and it is important to resist the temptation to ‘tidy away’ dead wood. The abundance of insect and fungi communities should be enough to highlight that deadwood is in fact teeming with life, and an integral part of the habitat that veteran trees provide.
Retelling tales of our collective history is one of humankind’s most enduring pastimes. It is part of our culture and heritage, connecting us to the people around us.
However it is field trips like this which highlight the need for discussion, not only between ‘arbs’, but also between all those individuals whose activities impact on these special trees.