1st July 2015
Among the trees in East Anglia
The Ancient Tree Forum’s 2015 summer forum was held in East Anglia, and attracted over 100 specialists and enthusiasts with a shared passion for ancient and other veteran trees. Delegates came from Belgium, Holland and Sweden as well as all corners of the UK, and they used the opportunity to network and exchange ideas, to hear from the experts, and to visit old and culturally significant trees in Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire.
Conference speakers and topics were as diverse as the delegates. While the theme of ancient and veteran trees ran through all the presentations, some were based on academic research, for example into the role of fungi in hollowing beech trees, and others drew on the experience of arboricultural consultants like Nev Fay, who described soil and crown treatments he is using on trees affected with Acute Oak Decline. Community involvement was the driving force behind a Herefordshire orchard restoration project, and the need for a register of ‘Very Important Trees’ was raised by Jill Butler of the Woodland Trust. The speaker who probably received the most enthusiastic response was Professor Lynne Body whose ‘Fighting Fungi’ presentation on the development of fungal communities in wood (pictured below), made this natural activity look like a gladiator arena game.
The site visits to Aspal Close nature reserve at Beck Row in Suffolk, an orchard near Wisbech in Cambridgeshire, and to the Stanford Training Area (STANTA) in Norfolk gave delegates the chance to hear from the owners, site managers and specialists, and to wander among centuries old trees. At Aspal Close (pictured below), huge and gnarled old oak pollards were the main feature. Here, trees are retrenchment-pruned, and haloing of other surrounding trees is carried out to give the veterans light and space. Rabbits keep the scrub down, dead trees are left standing, and humps, hollows and other features of the periglacial landscape, all valuable for biodiversity, are retained. Less fortunate was an oak tree visited by delegates and estimated as being around 700 years old, which is now outside the nature reserve and surrounded by housing. One delegate described this nevertheless as ‘a very important site to witness, and illustration of how the planning system…..is failing to protect priceless ancients’.
On the grass heaths of STANTA, where sheep grazed peacefully in the temporary absence of any military exercises, the group visited some of the best examples of the distinctive ‘pine lines’ of contorted trees which were often planted in the early nineteenth century as shelter belts, and are now iconic features of the Breckland landscape.
Of particular value on the site visits are the connections that are made between delegates, specialists, site owners and managers, with ideas hatched, comparisons made and information exchanged. At the Rummers Lane orchard near Wisbech, there was plenty of time for discussion about fruit varieties and rootstocks, pruning techniques, community initiatives, invertebrate habitats, the role of fungi and other topics. Veteran fruit trees were plentiful, many of them hollowed and spindly, and Tim Dixon of the Ancient Tree Forum remarked that it was a great site ‘to demonstrate that veterans don’t have to be very big or very old.’
As Brian Muelaner, Chair of the Ancient Tree Forum says, the real value of the Ancient Tree Forum’s events is that they attract people from diverse backgrounds, and provide the opportunity to share knowledge and experience. ‘The idea of our summer forum is to bring people together who share a passion for protecting our ancient trees –whether they’re professional arboriculturists, amateur conservationists or simply people who appreciate the beauty of our oldest trees.’ It is also hoped that an East Anglia Ancient Tree Forum group may be set up following the event. Anyone interested is encouraged to contact Reg Harris at firstname.lastname@example.org for more details.
The 2015 summer forum was run in partnership with the Suffolk Traditional Orchards Group (STOG) and the Ancient Tree Forum is extremely grateful to Paul Read and other STOG members for identifying sites and speakers and co-ordinating the event.