7th May 2019
ATF Spring Field Trip to Windsor Great Park
Due to a climate change induced postponement, the Spring Field Trip was re-arranged from March to 11 April 2019. While unfortunate for those who planned to attend the original event and were not able to re-arrange their diaries, those that did attend were able to experience the onset of the spring ‘greening’ in outstanding surroundings.
On a clear and frosty morning, we were given a warm welcome and introduction from the Crown Estate’s Head Forester- John Deakin and some of his team, who provided hot beverages and a fine selection of biscuits and patisseries for the expectant congregation. Incidentally, before many of the anticipatory attendees had gathered, I was treated to the sight of a hare darting through the adjacent woodland, while a pair of resident Egyptian geese flew overhead and a Red Kite quartered the surrounds of the newly constructed environmental centre, no doubt hoping to scavenge a discarded pain au chocolat or to carry off a small child. (Editor’s Note to readers from the general public- the aforementioned are not normally prey items for this large raptor).
Before heading off into the trees, it is worth mentioning that the Environmental Centre is part of a 5 year partnership between the Crown Estate and Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trusts to provide Environmental Education facilities. This will benefit children with regard to the range of habitats and species found in the Park mosaic and with particular reference to the inspirational ancient and veteran trees that will hopefully energise a new generation of naturalists.
Our first stop was a mature Beech tree, which Bill Cathcart (former Great Park Superintendent) was keen to share with us- the tree is known to have exhibited fruiting bodies of Meripilus for over 30 years as noted by Ted Green, but appeared to be in a process of root and buttress re-trenchment (Fig.1) as a response. Discussion ensued with regard to host/fungus relationships including fungal succession and the combined effects of separate fungal species, which inevitably create dilemmas for the tree manager e.g. while there are species trends, prediction and prognosis will vary with regard to the individual tree and its specific circumstances.
At this point, I would like to thank Bill for his assistance in leading the field trip with John and for sharing his detailed and extensive knowledge of the park and its trees with us.
The next tree (Fig.2) was one of the ‘Conqueror’s Oaks’- one of the small number of millennium trees dating back to King Bill 1- this one is called the Conquerors Oak Mk. II (the original The Conqueror’s Oak having died some years ago). This tree was dated using John White’s comparative method at around 1000 years.
Moving on, we passed by a commercially innovative under-planting of Xmas trees around veteran oaks (Fig.3). The conifers provided an interesting photographic juxtaposition and a contrast between the form of the broadleaved old oaks and their upstart evergreen underlings! Their did not appear to be any ill-effects due to proximity of planting or excessive nutrient demand, with the conifers acting as the scrub layer and adding visual interest along with some limited but additional habitat value. The commercial value of the Xmas trees providing income that could potentially be used for veteran tree care elsewhere.
After the Xmas trees and their oaken overlords, we passed through the Tower Ride, an C18th Lime avenue (Figs.4&5) framing the view to and from Cranborne Tower planted in the reign of Queen Anne and forming a connection between Cranborne Park and Chase- the Park being more formal and a later park within the Great Park, demonstrating the overlaying and incorporation of landscapes over the centuries. At this point it is worth noting that the Great Park contains great landscape variety superimposed on the King’s former Royal Hunting Forest- gardens, farms, forestry (with a small f), woodland and plantations. In addition, surprise exotic (introduced) trees in un-expected locations, some of which represent gifts to our current Queen and her predecessors, also coronation plantings and groups of oaks from around the commonwealth donated by their respective heads of state. The lime avenue has developed valuable deadwood habitats over the last two centuries and is notable for its visibly prolific and pendulous Mistletoe growth. Replacement trees are propagated from the originals for planting as and when necessary.
Next, we viewed a forest nursery project between the Crown Estate and Barcham Trees, where named and notable individual trees were being propagated from seed for planting out in the Park. After these youngsters, we progressed to perhaps the ultimate and most aged of parent trees- Offa’s Oak (Figs.6&7), which is believed to have stood in the Park for the last 1200 years- before the ‘Conqueror’ was conceived and with close lineage to the ‘Wildwood’. Offa’s Oak is effectively now two autonomous units with a third unit now dead and lying at their feet. Individual/Independent Functional Units (IFU’s) have been described in detail by Dr. David Lonsdale- our esteemed colleague and I understand that this term has been replaced in the ATF vernacular with the new term ‘Lonsdale’ units, out of respect to David’s contribution to the advancement of our arboricultural knowledge. Discussion took place concerning proposals to replace existing wooden props with new custom metal versions.
The remainder of the morning session was spent in the woodland and idyllic wood pasture of Cranborne Chase, where conservation grazing is carried out by Longhorn cattle. Newly emerged male Orange Tip butterflies were observed flitting along the woodland edge setting up their territories. Highlights included, ’split’ lime trees (Fig.8), a birch growing from an upturned oak stump (Fig.9), early and now hollowing plantings of London Plane trees (Fig.10), and ‘Attenborough’s Oak (Fig.11)- where Sir Dave peered out from its hollow interior for a ‘piece to camera’- telly talk for filming the presenter delivering their commentary!
Fig.10 Hollow Plane: A happy tree face!
After an absorbing and extended morning in the Spring sunshine, we took a late lunch back at the environmental centre before heading into the South Forest to view a PAWS (Plantation on Ancient Woodland Site) restoration of broadleaved woodland for conservation. In the process of planting, whether due to the relevant grant scheme or an over-zealous planting contractor, several new trees were noted around an old veteran (Fig.12) that had been released from and had just about survived the former conifer plantation that surrounded it and concerns were expressed that this effectively was ‘reverse haloing’ that in time would once again overshadow the old oak. The Crown estate noted that action should be considered to re-locate the young trees in the vicinity of the Oak to a more beneficial location in the next planting season. In addition, this tree served as a good example of the necessity to ensure a pre-planting survey notes special features to be considered as part of woodland management planning, design and implementation with particular reference to new planting schemes.
Next, we were treated to a rare view of bio-luminescent fungal mycelium (probably Armillaria- Honey Fungus) inside a hollow old beech tree (Fig.13).
The grand finale to the proceedings was an encounter with the ‘Octopus Beech’ (Fig.14), a great sprawling tangle of layering branches emanating from a once mighty, vertical Beech (possible pollard) that had lost its head and decided to expand horizontally to great proportions that could not be contained in one photograph in its entirety. So, one tree becomes a forest with pretentions to immortality…
Grateful thanks are extended on behalf of the Ancient Tree Forum to the Crown Estate for their hospitality in hosting this field trip and in recognition of the excellent work they continue to carry out as custodians of this very special landscape and its inspirational trees. Special thanks to John Deakin and Bill Cathcart for their individual contributions and commitment to the Great Park.
All photographs are copyright C. Knapman.
Chris Knapman F Arbor A, Dip Arb (RFS) 3 May 2019
Chris Knapman is an independent arboricultural, horticultural and ecological consultant specialising in heritage trees based in Central Scotland. Chris is a longstanding member of the Ancient Tree Forum and also the Ancient Yew Group (AYG).