25th October 2018
ATF Yorkshire and East Midlands Visit to Chatsworth 12 May 2018
Credit all photos: Sam McQueen
The inaugural meeting of the Yorkshire and East Midlands branch of the ATF was held at Chatsworth in the Peak District this spring.
Over forty people were allowed a rare glimpse inside the Old Deer Park, which is closed to the public, as well as taking in the many younger, but still significant, trees elsewhere in the park. Chatsworth’s Head Forester, John Everitt, showed us around, after an introduction where he described the range of tree and woodland interest on the estate, which spreads across two counties and includes semi-natural ancient woodland, commercial conifer plantation and lots of great old trees in parkland. He outlined a sensible ethos of maximising commercial return where possible (within strict environmental parameters) in order to fund good conservation management in areas that aren’t commercially viable.
Chatsworth Park was laid out by Capability Brown in the eighteenth century and is a highly significant historic landscape as well as a major tourist attraction. The 1500 ancient oaks of the old park pre-date Brown’s work and were incorporated into his design as he appreciated their aesthetic, and the fact that they lent an air of antiquity to his new park. The carriage ride that would have brought visitors around the park weaves down amongst the oaks in tight hairpins to take in as many of these fantastic trees as possible, and its route is still visible today in the banks and berms that we followed.
The Old Park is a Site of Special Scientific Interest and it was a pleasant change for the attendees to see a rough sward rather than a sheep-cropped bowling green – the area is grazed mainly by cattle and deer in relatively low numbers. It was also slightly out of the ordinary to see a decent cohort of younger, mature oaks providing habitat succession. John did, however, point out that many of this age-group don’t look too healthy, the potential reasons for which led to some interesting discussion (without conclusion). Conversation was otherwise dominated mainly by enthusiasm for the ancient trees, with the exception of a minor debate over the decision taken by the estate (and supported by Natural England) to let them decline and collapse naturally without any arboricultural intervention to try to keep them upright for as long as possible. Some attendees felt that minor pruning work to the occasional vulnerable tree would be appropriate, although everyone recognised that the natural-feeling atmosphere of the place is very special and the current management sensitive and enlightened.
The visit was a great way to kick off our local chapter and brought together a typically motley and enthusiastic ATF crew of arbs, land managers, artists, mycologists, students, and many others to see some really exceptional trees. It was a real privilege to get behind the wall into the Old Deer Park and huge thanks are due to John and the Chatsworth Estate. Our next visit will be sometime during early winter this year and is likely to be to Kedlestone Hall, near Derby. Keep an eye on the website for more information – or sign up for the main ATF mailing list and select the Yorkshire and East Midlands group when prompted.