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29th March 2017

First field event for ATF Wessex

David Blake

Kingston Lacy park

David Blake, who leads the new ATF Wessex group, joined local National Trust staff at the end of February for the group’s first field meeting, to Kingston Lacy and Holt Forest in Dorset

Kingston Lacy is one of the National Trust’s finest properties in the Wessex region and the regional and property staff had done us proud. After a brief welcome from myself we settled in the Mess Room to hear from Simon Ford (Wildlife and Countryside Consultancy Manager for the National Trust) about how ancient and veteran trees are managed within the Trust’s estate.

Integrating the specialist management of such important heritage assets (often, some of the trees around the great houses in the Trust’s portfolio are much older than the houses themselves) provides Simon and his colleagues with some real challenges. Many of these are around communicating the importance of the trees to colleagues and being able to meet the modern requirements for access, modern agricultural activity and public events in landscapes that were not designed with any of those things in mind.

Brian Muelaner then provided an overview of the ATF and the place that local groups such as Wessex ATF occupy within the national picture. Paul Johnson and Ellie Egan, Countryside Rangers at Kingston Lacy, gave us an introduction to the trees we were going to see and then we got out into the Park.

David Blake

Holm oak at Kingston Lacy

During the talks in the Mess Room, questions and points had been raised about how the National Trust manages ancient trees and these points were discussed in greater depth as we stood around some of the outstanding trees in the Park.

It would be hard to summarise the whole debate, and I could not do all the different viewpoints justice, so I’ll give my own take on it. The National Trust appreciates the value of ‘critical friends’ who support their overall aims even while not always agreeing with every policy or management decision. From the outside, we all appreciate the fact that the Trust is putting real importance on it’s exceptional trees and that there are people in the Trust to whom we can talk; but that does not mean that we will hold back in encouraging the Trust to do better and aspire to greater things. The Trust’s performance has to be seen in the light of the experience that many of us share: that many tree owners regard their trees as being a problem or a threat and see that the only answer is to remove the tree, which is certainly not the policy of the National Trust.

The discussions we started in the Park about farming past and present, about the modern landscapes in which ancient trees now exist, about soils, biodiversity and much more, were all continued as we had our lunch in the Mess Room and then boarded a coach to go to Holt Forest.

David Blake

Holt Forest

Holt is a fascinating remnant of the Medieval landscape. It is a common and was under laissez-faire management of English Nature / Natural England for some years before being taken back in-hand by the National Trust. There has been a programme of ‘haloing’ – gradual removal of younger trees from around the great old pollards that grew up in an open wood pasture landscape.

David Blake

Haloed oak pollard

We were also able to see some fascinating hollies that had been ‘stripped’ for their branch wood and foliage.These trees provoked a great deal of discussion about ‘tree hay’ and the benefits that tree foliage can bring to modern livestock husbandry.

David Blake

Holly , stripped for branch wood and foliage, at Holt

We were fortunate to have Ted Green with us. He gave us the benefit of his long experience and great knowledge as well as providing much amusement!

David Blake

Ted Green at Holt

My thanks go to our hosts at Kingston Lacy, to Simon and Hilary at the NT Wessex office in Tisbury who are doing so much to get Wessex ATF off the ground and to everyone who came on the day and contributed to the discussions.

We will be publishing notice of further events in due course. Apologies to those who were unable to come along this time, I look forward to meeting you in the future.

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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