7th August 2017
Epping Forest: insights and inspiration
Tim Hill, ATF trustee, writes about the charity’s 2017 conference, held at Epping Forest in July, and attended by around 240 people each day.
This year’s conference was a refreshing blend of talks, walks, insights and inspiration. As Jeremy Dagley, the event organiser and Head of Conservation at Epping Forest succinctly put it: “There’s a real buzz of excitement in the room”.
Chris Knapman – more M.C. than Chair – topped and tailed the first morning with pithy reflections on his time in arboriculture, whilst keeping himself and speakers strictly to time. Quite a feat considering we had the irrepressible Jeremy D kicking off with a whistle stop tour of the many achievements he has overseen at Epping over the past 22 years, much of it a mutually beneficial collaboration with ATF practitioners. It also set the scene perfectly for the afternoon walks, which he tirelessly led, along with colleagues from the City of London.
David Lovelace gave a fascinating multi-layered presentation showing spacial connections that illuminate landscape history as well as informing future management of wood pasture and ancient trees. David is an advocate of digital mapping, particularly of open source software (FOSS4G), and wowed us with comparisons between the 1885 first edition OS maps, aerial photographs, Microsoft Virtual Earth, Tithe maps and Lidar.
Rob McBride entertained us all with his seemingly endless long distance trail (and tree-related puns) along Offa’s Dyke, begun in 2009; clearly still a walk in progress. Rob’s perambulations are always people- as well as tree- centric. Well-illustrated by words of wisdom from a traditional orchard grower – ‘stoggle’ anyone?
We were then treated to project-focused talks. Vikki Bengtsson’s enthusiasm for damaging young trees is infectious; appropriately, as this is one of the aims of early intervention. It was interesting to learn how early techniques and methods of evaluating longer-term success have been refined as the trial progresses. Also to compare and contrast the detailed ongoing work that Emma Gilmartin has been carrying out on beech at Epping under the supervision of Professor Lynne Boddy, both of whom gave fascinating presentations on day two of the conference
Jaroslav Kolarik has been working with Neville Fay (founder Trustee of the ATF) for a number of years and has helped develop protection for Czech Republic’s stock of heritage trees. His success is the envy of us in UK, since Czech Republic now gives protection defined by law to heritage trees, accompanied by a GIS database. A common challenge is the way in which these trees are managed, and arriving at a national standard.
Dr. Sarah Henshall from Buglife described the exciting and wide-ranging new Back from the Brink initiative. Some of the key species and habitats are associated with ancient trees and we hope this will be a spur to ATF forging closer links with Buglife and its partner organisations.
Day two focussed on fungi, roots, soils and disease. Sessions were chaired by Helen Read and Vikki Bengstsson,
Joan Webber delivered a tour de force on pathogens affecting trees, woods and forests, charting the increase of pathogens and their destructiveness. She wisely skirted around most insects, offering instead a few rays of hope in relation to the resilience of ancient and veteran trees.
Brian Douglas outlined Kew’s Lost and Found Fungi project, which has the aim of raising the profile of fungi in general and through Citizen Science of improving baseline data for target species. Ultimately this could result in Red Listing of genuinely rare species, at least four of which are associated with veteran trees and wood pasture.
Emma Gilmartin opened our eyes to the wonders of fungal communities and how subsequent decay affects such communities through time. The breadth of her PhD research is stunning and seems to spread like the very mycelia she studies in microscopic detail. Fortunately she has Lynne Boddy to keep her on track!
Which brought us on nicely to Jill Butler’s presentation on tree roots and ancient soilspheres. Ironically, as roots claim a firmer purchase on surrounding soils, so the tree becomes fixed in space, whilst its environment can so easily change with time. All the more reason then to protect the root zone. Jill and colleagues have campaigned for many years to protect and care for a soil sphere of adequate dimensions; most recent evidence from root radar shows lateral root penetration at least 3 times greater than that specified in BS5837.
Geoff Monck summarised recent research in continental Europe and results of a 5 year study into Acute Oak Decline (AOD) in the Royal Parks. They point to similarities between Chronic and Acute Oak Decline, suggesting a continuum rather than two separate disease expressions. The effect of pollution on microbial communities combined with soil hydrology is having a significant effect on tree health, manifested in oak as a general decline.
To round off the indoor presentations, Russell Miller (ATF’s Chair) and Jim Mullholland (Training andTechnical Officer) gave a swift round up of the year’s achievements as well as a taster of what 2018 has to offer – in particular a demonstration sites project on City of London sites, and VETcert, the accreditation scheme for those working with veteran trees. Keep following the ATF website and Facebook for further updates!
Sandwiched between all this, although it was in fact a BBQ, we ate and drank al fresco at Gilwell Park, before Chris Knapman once again MC’d with a fiendish quiz of his own design. As Rob McBride would say: ‘tree-mendous’!
The afternoon field trips showed Epping Forest in all its varied glory from pollarded hornbeam wood pasture surrounded by dense beech forest, through magnificent veteran oak to ancient beech standards, pollards and possibly (though this was subject to debate) coppards. Speakers en route included Helen Read who talked about beech management at Burnham Beeches, Nev Fay on soils, and Peter Byfield on landscape history. The second day ended with Lynne Boddy showing examples of fieldwork undertaken by Emma for her PhD, together with sample blocks of cultured mycelia, which are earmarked for inoculation into standing live beech.
As if that wasn’t enough, we were all invited to Marian Sidebottom’s stunning photographic art exhibition at Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge. A fine celebration of a stunning landscape and the 800th anniversary of the Forest Charter.
One final vote of thanks to Jeremy Dagley for organising a spectacular conference. Now how can we top that?