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9th November 2017

ATF Wessex visit to Longleat

David Blake

The Grove, Longleat

David Blake, who leads ATF Wessex, writes about the group’s Autumn visit to Longleat in Wiltshire

On the morning of 20th October, a few of us were logging on to the BBC Weather web page and wondering if we were going to be lucky or not. For some months, Julian Hight, Jim McConkie, Hilary Abbott and myself had been working on a plan to bring off the third Wessex ATF event. We particularly wanted this one to have a varied audience and, if possible, a larger audience than usual. We were lucky: the weather god did us proud.

Julian has been leading a campaign to restore the landscape of the Medieval Selwood Forest on the Somerset – Wiltshire border (have a look at the ‘Reviving Selwood Forest’ Facebook page) and he suggested that one of the visits we should do with the new Wessex group should be to Longleat. Longleat Estate is not just about lions and “wifelets” – the capability Brown / Repton Park around the house also holds some really stupendous ancient trees many of which are a lot older than the house (1579). Julian got together with Jim McConkie, Head Forester at Longleat, and cooked up a great plan. Hilary and I were glad to be able to help make it happen.

Having advertised the opportunity via Facebook, the Cranborne Chase AONB newsletter and word of mouth, we had nearly 100 people who would have liked to attend. With a week to go we closed the event with 85 people signed up and over 15 on the waiting list. On the day, we had a few who could not come at the last moment and there were about 75 people. Jim’s team had laid on a warm welcome with roaring fire, tea, coffee and biscuits for everyone. After I had welcomed people, and Jim had given a quick introduction to Longleat, we loaded up into as few cars as possible and drove the mile or so to the Park.

David Blake

Oak at the Grove, Longleat

Our first stop was at The Grove, where Julian gave us an introduction to Selwood, then lead us down to meet some wonderful trees. The oaks included the ‘Lion of Longleat’, some very impressive sweet chestnuts and a large field maple pollard that sparked a good deal of discussion. Brian Muelaner helped out greatly by giving the audience, many of whom had never been on an ATF field visit before, the benefit of his great knowledge on ancient and veteran trees. Julian had brought three small oaks that were planted close (but not too close) to their parent trees. These oaks are part of the ‘Reviving Selwood’ Project – more of which will no doubt be written on this blog.

David Blake

ATF Wessex group at the Lion of Longleat

After lunch, we returned to the Park, but then went up to Heaven’s Gate. This view point offers a panoramic vista across The Park to the house, then across the landscape where the medieval Forest of Selwood lay. The great trees and ancient woodlands are the last vestiges of that landscape.

David Blake

Longleat and Selwood

David Blake

Great oaks in Longleat park

We then turned away from the landscape and explored the beech trees that were planted on the summit of the hill behind us. Jim showed us some interesting trees, covered in arborglyphs and memorials, that offer some ‘interesting’ challenges for those responsible for ensuring that the estate meets it’s duty of care to visitors. Big old beech with obvious rot, but also a rope swing and picnicking site beneath the heavy boughs.

Further back, we came across some very impressive beech and gorgeous beech stumps, dead and alive.

David Blake

ATF Wessex and Longleat beech trees

There was a good deal of discussion about how we manage woodlands for the future, inspired by the almost complete devastation wrought by grey squirrels on beech that had been planted after the gales of the 1980s and 1990s. The day ended at 4pm amidst warm afternoon sunshine.


Posted by: David Blake David Blake is Project Development Officer for the Cranborne Chase Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and leads the ATF's Wessex group.

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