‘The indifference to old trees makes a mockery of our supposed new respect for the environment’. Thomas Pakenham, ‘Meetings with Remarkable Trees’ (1996)
There are a couple of contentious points in the above quote: are we indifferent to the trees gracing our landscapes and have we acquired a respect for the natural world? Maybe and maybe not but, I would suggest, we have a tendency to overlook both in the busyness of life. I have been touched by several trees at the meadows indeed to the point of hugging a couple as I wrapped my tape measure around their midriffs. To qualify for these ponderings the trees can be alive or dead but must be standing.
Our first meeting is with one of the four Monterey Cypress (Cupressus macrocarpa) trees, on the north side of the car-park which decided to fall after, but weakened by, Storm Eunice. This was on 21 February, the first day of our new mobility impaired access path works and fell across the back of the contractor’s lorry, narrowly missing Dave & Otis as they sat in the cab having their teabreak!
It took us a month or so to cut up the prone 70 foot of massive bulk. On 25 March, as I gradually chain-sawed back through the sections of trunk, we were stunned as the root plate suddenly rocked back into its hole and raised the remains of the fallen goliath. The resurrected specimen now stands proud as a 20 feet totem and very much dead.
Our next encounter is a native species, unlike the Cypress, which germinated in the south-eastern ditch next to the path from the entrance. This is a Goat Willow (Salix caprea), fast growing like the Cypress, with an enormous, gnarled bole that has partially fallen and sprouted twin rivelled-barked trunks and multiple spreading branches. Being a male it produces a smothering of yellow pollen-clad catkins in early Spring alive with the buzz of bees.
As this is the biggest Goat Willow I have ever seen it is my personal favourite of all the trees at the meadows. Maybe not ancient as trees go but with a mature beauty and majesty that I often stop and stare at and lose myself in contemplative awe.
Our final rendezvous is with the Ash tree (Fraxinus excelsior) alongside our new path as one approaches the gate on to the meadow. I have reckoned the Cypress at about 40 years old and estimated the Goat Willow to be somewhat older. For this Ash, I plugged the result of my tree hugging tape measuring exercise (a sight to behold) into the tree-guide.com Tree Age Calculator and at 106 inches girth this authority pronounces the age to be 143 years old (give or take 10%).
Whilst it has dropped some sizeable branches in recent times it seems a healthy specimen with no signs of Chalara dieback which is ravaging other ashes nearby and has killed a mature neighbour. It is a sobering thought that as dieback removes all young ash trees on our site there is currently no recruitment to the Ash population. As Ash trees normally fall apart and die at around 200 years (unless regularly coppiced when there is no upper age limit) this means that the time approaches when we have no Ashes left. Unthinkable.
Continue reading about the trees and woodland at our Foxearth Meadows rural reserve in ‘Remarkable Trees part 2’ here.
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