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TreeNews M a k i n g

t r e e s

m a t t e r

t o

e v e r y o n e

g Incorporatin


xpert a journal of e ce n opinion, scie h rc a se re and

A part of us Meet the artist who brings trees closer to humankind


how to gather seeds of the season Ray Mears on his magical country places the oak that grew into a family’s history


autumn/ winter 2013

The Consulting Arborist SOCIETY

Need a consultant but can’t see the wood for the trees? CAS Members are accredited for a range of services including: Tree reports for planning applications to BS5837:2012 standard Tree reports for mortgages & insurance Tree inspections (Lantra accredited) Tree valuations Help with Tree Preservation Orders Expert Witness support

Why Join CAS? Professional members receive: •Online promotion •Training discounts •Industry news •Professional Accreditation Membership levels start from l just £6 per month. See the website for more details... registered training provider

More than just a listing site! 2 Tree News Autumn/Winter 2011

autumn/winter 2013

This issue’s photo competition winner is Ben Anderton with this stunning shot. Turn to page 31 for the runners up Editor Clare Harris Sub editors Ellen Arnison, Sian Campbell Designers Mark Davies, Alistair McGown Advertising Alison Fraser 0141 946 8708 Publisher John Innes Think, 20-23 Woodside Place Glasgow G3 7QF Invaluable Assistance Pauline Buchanan Black, Jon Stokes Printed by Polestar Stones Distributed by Seymour Distribution Ltd To receive Tree News by post please refer to page 18. For bulk copies of Tree News, please contact John Innes, at the address above. Tree News is the magazine of The Tree Council, 71 Newcomen Street, London SE1 1YT Telephone 0207 407 9992 Reg. Charity No: 279000 Limited company No: 1459056 Patron HRH The Duke of Kent Vice Presidents Esmond Harris MSc FICFor MIBiol, Bill Matthews OBE FArborA FIHort, Sir Sydney Chapman RIBA FRTPI FRSA, John Hillier VMH, Simon Hughes MP, Brian Donohoe MP Tree News is produced by The Heart of England Forest Ltd Reg. Charity no: 1097110 Limited company No: 04309564

5 From the top

In her column, Pauline Buchanan Black celebrates the resilience and natural growth cycle of home-grown seeds

6 Round Up The latest news, events and announcements from the world of trees

12 Campaign Alec Mackenzie on why this year The Tree Council’s Seed Gathering Season campaign is more important than ever for the health of our woodlands

14 Family tree Josephine Williams tells Lucy Scott about the night that centuries of history came crashing down with the legendary Pontfadog Oak

19 Sylva

Research, opinion and more, including Scots Pine, citizen science and a special section on tree health

31 Picture perfect Check out the runners up in this season’s photo competition, who were just pipped to the post by the winner, pictured on this page

32 Heart of wood Ava Roeg meets Aron Demetz, the Italian sculptor who recreates the human spirit through wood

34 Wild about... Home to more than 2,000 species, we uncover the unique habitat of a dead oak

36 Getting to know you Survival expert and television presenter Ray Mears talks about his bushcraft company and looking after British trees

38 Kit Tree and garden tools reviewed, plus grow your own trees from seed

40 Out and about From Scotland to Sussex, the spectacular sight of autumn finery

45 Penn to Paper How columnist Rob Penn found solace and healing in the company of trees

46 Final words Poetry by Felix Dennis, illustrated by Bill Sanderson

cover image: aron demetz


© Tree Council 2013. No part of this periodical may be reproduced without the express permission of the publisher. The views expressed in this magazine are not necessarily those of The Tree Council. Tree News has been produced on a selection of paper grades that are either recycled, or contain certified fibre.

Autumn/Winter 2013 Tree News 3

sponsors & members TREE COUNCIL Members

Tree News is produced on behalf of The Tree Council by the Heart of England Forest Project. The Tree Council would like to thank the following organisations for their generous sponsorship of Tree News.

Polestar Stones Magazine Printers

Denmaur Independent Papers Paper Supplier

Ancient Tree Forum ancient-tree-forum Arboricultural Association Bat Conservation Trust British Association of Shooting & Conservation British Beekeepers Association Campaign to Protect Rural England Confederation of Forest Industries Consulting Arborist Society Country Land & Business Association Hawk and Owl Trust Horticultural Trades Association Institute for Outdoor Learning Institute of Chartered Foresters International Society of Arboriculture International Tree Foundation Landlife Landscape Institute Learning Through Landscapes Life for a Life Memorial Forests National Forest Company National Trust People’s Trust for Endangered Species Plantlife Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew Royal Forestry Society Royal Horticultural Society Royal Society for the Protection of Birds Silvanus Trust The Conservation Volunteers Trees for Cities Woodland Trust

Consultative Members Bright Grahame Murray Chartered Accountants

HSBC Private Bank

Seymour Distribution Ltd Magazine Distribution and Marketing

Simons Muirhead & Burton Solicitors

and CP Bigwood, Chartered Surveyors,

4 Tree News Autumn/Winter 2013

Local not-for-profit organisations: Broads Authority, TCV Kent, TCV West Lindsey, Birmingham Trees for Life, Central Scotland Forest Trust, Cotswold Tree Warden Group, Cumbria Wildlife Trust, Forth Environment Link, Greater Manchester Ecology Unit, Heart of England Forest, Hill Holt Wood, London Orchard Project, London Wildlife Trust, Kent Tree and Pond Partnership, Moor Trees, New Forest National Park Authority, Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority, Perth and Kinross Tree Warden Network, Portsmouth and Southsea Tree Warden Network, Riverside South East, Plymouth Community Homes, Plymouth Tree Partnership, Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust, Street Tree, Surrey Tree Warden Network, Tees Valley Wildlife Trust, Trees for Life, Wiltshire Wildlife Trust, Wychwood Project, Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust. Government Departments/Agencies: Communities and Local Government, Natural Resources Wales, Department of the Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, Department of the Environment for Northern Ireland, English Heritage, Forestry Commission, Highways Agency, Natural England. 95 Local Authorities and 14 Associate Members (private sector)

from the top

Grow your own Now is the time to celebrate the power and diversity of British seeds, says Pauline Buchanan Black

Pauline Buchanan Black is Director-General of The Tree Council

“The natural cycle of seed/whip/ sapling/tree continues unabated without our intervention”

Zelimir Borzan, University of Zagreb/


he blackberries on the side of the railway line were ripe by the end of July and as my train made yet another unscheduled stop on the way in to Peckham Rye, I would look wistfully out at them and wish I could wind the windows down. Then, as I passed the apple tree at South Bermondsey station I would wonder again what variety of apple this could be, growing in the middle of a wild, uncultivated patch that also boasts a huge fig tree alongside ash, birch, sycamore and many more self-sets aged from sapling to mature. Did that apple start as a pip in a core, thrown from a moving train and left to mulch down into the welcoming earth so that decades later, grown to maturity, travellers like me would ponder its origins? Had Richard Cox, creator of the Cox’s Orange Pippin and a Bermondsey lad, been around would he have scrambled up the bank and collected a sample? One thing seems clear – it, along with most of the trees on the lineside, germinated and grew in Britain. In an effort to save the ash for everyone, trials continue in the search for a Chalara-resistant strain – a quest that may take years to succeed. That they are taking place at all is recognition of the strength that lies with the diversity of cross-pollinated seedlings. It’s likely that out there, somewhere, is the tree that will give us back our ash heritage, its provenance offering certainty that it will have been grown in Britain. Meanwhile, the natural cycle of seed/ whip/sapling/tree continues unabated without our intervention… and what a good thing that is, too. Seeds are amazing little

packages of resilience and, yes, diversity. Every year, a new batch is produced with clockwork regularity, ensuring survival not just for a plant species but also, for all the forms of wildlife that rely upon the lone trees, the trees in groups and those in linear woodlands that are hedgerows, to provide food and shelter throughout the year. In fact, some of the beneficiaries are also the sowers of the seeds – from those covered in the fur or feathers that unwittingly carry burrs far afield to the edible seeds that are eaten and later planted and fertilised simultaneously and then seeds that are carried off by forgetful types that can’t remember where they buried them. If we are respectful of the rules, even humans can benefit from this bounty. We can collect to eat off the branch, to dye fabrics, to make recipes handed down by our grandparents or found on The Tree Council’s foraging website, Hedgerow Harvest. Not least, we can collect to sow. Anything from a cut-down cardboard milk carton to a glowing terracotta flowerpot is fine as a temporary nursery where the seed can germinate and be cared for until it’s time to make its way out in the big wide world. And what’s more, it will be grown in Britain. n Find out more at about foraging this autumn at

Autumn/Winter 2013 Tree News 5

Round Up The latest stories from the world of trees AGRICULTURE

Pontbren reaps woodland rewards Hill farmers thanked for environmental undertaking


he Welsh government has congratulated a group of hill farmers for their success in rejuvenating woodland, hedgerow and pond in a unique partnership. Earlier this year, environment minister for Wales John Griffiths AM celebrated the achievements of the Pontbren Farmers’ Group, in Powys, mid Wales. Since 2001, the ten neighbouring farmers have been working to plant more than 120,000 trees and shrubs, to create or restore more than ten miles of hedges and construct numerous ponds. Now nearly 5% of the Pontbren land is woodland, pond and hedgerow, according to the Woodland Trust and

Coed Cymru, which produced a report into their work. A key aim of the project was to improve shelter for livestock and allow a shift to hardier breeds of sheep, well adapted to graze upland pasture. As well as providing a habitat for wildlife, the farmers noticed that an unexpected advantage of the planting was reduced water run-off from grassland. Group member Roger Jukes said in the report: ‘Working together through all the trials of foot and mouth and TB has created a strength in our community which extends far beyond the work described here. ‘We have had fun together and enjoyed bringing people to our farms to see what has been achieved. Our one abiding frustration is that we have not been able to make it easier for other farmers to follow our lead.’


Planting hope for Cameroon’s great ape Partnership works to save gorilla’s forest habitat


he Cross River gorilla, one of Africa’s most endangered species, has been given a lifeline by a planting project that brings together experts in the UK and Cameroon. The partnership project is being funded by the UK-based International Tree Foundation and Cameroonian organisation the Environment and Rural Development Foundation. During a successful 18 months of collaboration, efforts were made to safeguard the only remaining unprotected montane forest ecosystem in Cameroon. This area is one of the last remnants of habitat of one of the most critically endangered primates. The project worked with the people who live around the forest, helping them

6 Tree News Autumn/Winter 2013

to establish alternative sources of income and fuel wood, thereby reducing pressure on this fragile environment. The gorillas’ prospects have been improved thanks to the 60,000 seedlings that have been raised in four nurseries, plus 20,000 seedlings established along with a seed bank in another central nursery. Soil fertility was improved by the planting of more than 15,000 trees, which had the additional benefit of providing fodder for livestock, and producing spice and forest gardens. Accompanying this extensive cultivation programme, an agroforestry farmers’ network was formed, trained, and supported with equipment as were four village-management committees. Local schoolchildren also played their part, establishing environmental clubs and tree nurseries, promoting sustainable agriculture and forest protection for generations to come.

TREE COUNCIL EVENTS Throughout 2014, The Tree Council will be celebrating diversity. Whether that’s the strength of genetic diversity in resisting pests and diseases, or the diversity of the people who enjoy and support The Tree Council’s work, events will place a value on difference and promote practical action. Find out about what’s happening in your area on The Tree Council’s Community Action pages at

seed gathering season Woodland, hedgerow and pond improvements have reaped rewards in mid Wales farmland

Tree Elms of fact possibility 2,000 H There are more than

species that make their home on a dead oak, more than on any other species. They include birds, butterflies and all sorts of fungi Read more on page 34

Disease-resistant sapling project enters second phase of its work

alf a century after Dutch elm disease wiped out more than 25 million trees in the UK, a project from the Conservation Foundation is continuing its work to bring the native elm back to Britain’s landscapes. The Great British Elm Experiment, which began in 2009, enters its second phase this year. To date, cuttings taken from 14 mature trees that appear to have resisted Dutch elm disease have been micro propagated. Over 2,000 of the resultant saplings have been distributed to schools, community groups, local authorities and landowners. Now, the charity aims to introduce a further nine parent trees, and 3,000 more saplings. ■ See more at

Grow the difference 23 Sept – 21 Oct This autumn festival aims to inspire everyone, particularly school children and families, to gather seeds, fruits and nuts and grow the trees of the future. Check out The Tree Council’s website for resources and posters, and read more about seed collecting on pages 12 and 39 of this issue. community-action

national tree week

Plant the difference 23 Nov – 1 Dec The UK’s largest tree celebration, National Tree Week launches the start of the winter tree planting season, as it has done every year since 1975. Join our 8,000 Tree Wardens across the country to take part in fun and accessible events, where you can get your hands dirty by planting one of a million trees, and improve your local area. Find out more at community-action

Autumn/Winter 2013 Tree News 7



29 November – 22 December Enchanted Christmas at Westonbirt Arboretum

Enjoy a spectacular illuminated one-mile trail highlighting the striking structures of the National Arboretum’s trees lit against the night sky. A new route is created each year to take in different specimens and vistas in the expansive collection.

london bears fruit project

n For details, see


10-14 February 2014 World Congress on Agroforestry

Taking place in Delhi, 2014’s congress will showcase how agroforestry can build livelihoods, benefit the landscape, and drive large-scale innovation. Attending will be many pre-eminent researchers, senior politicians and donors, as well as major businesses with concerns for sustainable development. n For more information, see

Publisher writes forest future


oodland in the West Midlands continues to gain ground as more trees are planted as part of the Heart of England Forest Project. Founded by landowner and publisher Felix Dennis, the charity initiative aims to revive England’s forest heritage and create an environment in

21 March 2014 International Day of Forests

Celebrating woodland around the world, the aim of this United Nations designated day is to raise awareness of sustainable forest management and conservation for the benefit of current and future generations. Countries will be encouraged to organise forest-related activities, including tree-planting campaigns. n For details, see

8 Tree News Autumn/Winter 2013

which both wildlife and people thrive. Earlier this year, staff from Dennis Publishing travelled from their London base to Warwickshire to plant 200 trees. The Heart of England Forest project has been responsible for acquiring and planting 1,900 acres of land with native broadleaf saplings, much of it close to veteran woodland.

Cell breakthrough


aking inspiration from the natural world, researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology and Purdue University in the US have developed efficient solar cells using natural cellulose substrates derived from trees. Unlike existing solar cells, it means they can be quickly recycled by dissolving them in water at the end of their life cycle. Scientists are optimistic that the discovery opens the door to a truly sustainable and renewable solar technology.


green initiative is encouraging Londoners to rediscover the pleasure of eating home-grown fruit plucked straight from trees in the city. Since 2009 The London Orchard Project has planted 57 community orchards of approximately ten trees each, across the capital. These include apple and plum trees, and even some apricot and peach trees. This year saw the project’s first gathering of orchard leaders, with attendees from community orchards sharing ideas and celebrating successes from all four corners of London. ■ See www thelondon

royal help for diamond tree

Fresh beetle warning urges vigilance The public is being asked to raise the alarm at the first signs of Asian and citrus longhorn beetles as tree health work continues


ree health authorities are appealing to the public to be on the alert for two species of beetle which could damage a wide range of trees and shrubs if they became established in the UK. The Asian longhorn beetle and its close relative, the citrus longhorn beetle, represent a major threat. They are known to make their way into the UK through imported wooden packing material. Eradication action taken against an outbreak of Asian longhorn beetles with the co-operation of local landowners in Kent last year appears to have been successful. The earlier an outbreak is detected, the greater the chances of eradicating it. The call comes as part of wide-ranging efforts to step up the UK’s defences against tree pests and diseases. October sees the launch of the ObservaTREE project, a new early warning system for tree disease that has been awarded £945,000 by the EU to involve the public in spotting signs of tree disease. It builds on the work done by the OPAL Tree Health Survey. ■ Read more about the Tree Health Survey and tree diseases and pests in this issue’s Sylva journal


RH The Princess Royal helped plant a Tree Council Jubilee Diamond Tree in July with children from the Highlands. The Princess, patron of the Diamond Jubilee Woods project, was in Glencarron to formally open its Diamond Jubilee Wood, planted there by landowner Alasdair Douglas, who is also chairman of The Tree Council. While at the site, she helped local children plant one of 60 Jubilee Diamond Trees that have been distributed across the UK by The Tree Council. The Jubilee Diamond Trees have been given away to communities, schools and Tree Wardens who have been encouraged to use the awarding and planting of the tree as a catalyst to create local history and reflect upon the past 60 years, as well as engaging children, so that the trees will be valued for generations to come. The pictures and stories from each of the communities that plant these special trees will be brought together in a book to be presented to the Queen. Each Jubilee Diamond Tree will have its own plaque and QR code, linking to an online resource containing all the trees’ stories.

Tree tweeters Just a few of the interesting folk we’re connected with on Twitter. Follow them to find out more…

@Trees4Trafford Greater Manchester tree lovers are making a noise about felling in their area @BiophilicCities A new project which launches this autumn, to make our cities greener @FENnetwork Love outdoor learning? These guys bring together forest educators from across England @AnnaCasserley This lady is based in Gloucestershire and carves simple yet beautiful spoons from local timber

Tree fact Across the UK, there are around

8,000 Tree Wardens, who look after trees and forests on a voluntary basis. Find out more at uk/tree-wardens

The Asian longhorn beetle can enter the UK in packing cases

Autumn/Winter 2013 Tree News 9



Famous grouse gets woodland boost


project that will help restore 114 hectares of rough grazing and hill ground to native forest in Glen Orchy, in the Highlands of Scotland, has seen around 400,000 trees planted over the last two years. The Glen Orchy woodland creation project, part of which was a

Diamond Jubilee Wood scheme, has also seen measures put in place to enhance the area for black grouse, which have suffered habitat loss due to deer and sheep grazing. Forest management company UPM Tilhill is carrying out the woodland creation project, on behalf of Forestry Commission Scotland.


Seed confusion

Training courses in tree management


orestry workers and managers looking to develop their professional skills may be interested in the training opportunities offered by Plumpton College, the agricultural education hub in rural East Sussex. The project is supported by the Rural Development Programme for England (RDPE) for which DEFRA is the Managing Authority, part funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development; Europe investing in rural areas. n For more details contact Sarah Blackford on 01580 879547.

10 Tree News Autumn/Winter 2013

We’d like to apologise for the error that occurred in our article ‘Seeds saved for next generations’ (Tree News, Spring/Summer 2013). We mistakenly referred to Nothofagus alessandrii as a conifer. It is, in fact, a rare broadleaved tree also known as a ruil. Martin Gardner and other experts from the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh and the Perthshire Big Tree Country ‘iCONic project’ came across the ruil by chance whilst on an expedition to conserve the seeds of the region’s threatened conifers. n Keep up to date with

the progress of the project at

Tales, Tradition and Folklore of Ireland’s Trees Ben Simon (Forest of Belfast) With this interesting little book, Ben Simon reminds us that trees have a role in our lives that goes beyond their natural cycle. A comprehensive source of fascinating folklore about Ireland’s trees, from the macabre to the joyous, Tales, Traditions and Folklore is a book you can easily dip in and out of. Meadows George Peterken (British Wildlife Publishing) When British Wildlife Publishing launched its new natural history collection last year with Mushrooms by Peter Marren, it hit the ground running. Now comes the second book in this already excellent series, Meadows by George Peterken, who has written recently for this magazine. It’s quite probably the best book ever written on this essential British habitat. Old Knobbley the Oak Tree Morag Embleton, (self-published, Morag Embleton’s Old Knobbley the Oak Tree takes children on Old Knobbley’s journey from acorn to 800-year-old ancient oak, learning how trees grow, are looked after and are used by people and wildlife. Along the way young readers encounter historical, natural and literary events to put Knobbley’s age in context. For every two books sold, one tree will be planted!


Receive a signed copy of Old Knobbley for £10, postage and packaging free, by emailing and citing ‘Tree News Offer’

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CAMPAIGN Not just an old chestnut, but a crucial resource

Fruits F of the forest

As autumn comes around, so does The Tree Council’s Seed Gathering Season campaign. This year, the need for seeds grown and gathered on our British soil is more important than ever. Alec Mackenzie finds out more 12 Tree News Autumn/Winter 2013

or some, autumn is a time for contemplation and reflection, as the leaves of our forests turn to fiery hues and the air grows cooler. But for those in the forestry industry, the season is one of action as seeds from the UK’s trees are gathered from forest floors across the land, to be sent to nurseries for cultivation. With tree disease high on the public and government agenda, it is more important now than ever to be aware of how seeds collected here in the UK can play a major part in preventing plant disease taking hold. From 14-20 October, Grown in Britain Week takes place, bringing together a range of events to highlight the importance of British woodlands and its forestry industry. The week falls within The Tree Council’s Seed Gathering Season, which runs every year over the autumn equinox. It encourages everyone to head out and collect seeds from their local trees, to grow not just in nurseries but in back garden pots and community plots across the land. Whether you’re a nursery worker or an amateur gardener, however, the message is the same. Local works. The concept of local provenance is that over many generations, successful species have adapted

to their circumstances, resulting in the great diversity that can be found across even the smallest patches of woodland. In the industry, the definition of local becomes even stricter. The Forestry Commission divides the UK into four regions of provenance, or defined areas in which similar ecological and climatic characteristics are found. Categorised by native tree species, these regions of provenance are then split into a total of 24 non-statutory native seed zones. For professional seed collectors, the ability to show the provenance of their harvest is crucial. Proving provenance Tim Young has his own seed business, Young’s Seeds, based in Shrewsbury. What started as a way to earn a bit of extra pocket money while he was still at school around 25 years ago is now an established company that has collected seeds throughout the UK. Tim supplies commercial growers with what he collects from the seed zones encompassing the Shropshire area and those over the border into Wales. ‘My customers will request a particular type of seed and if they’re desperate for a particular provenance, then I’ll try to accommodate them’, says Tim. ‘I stick to collecting the forestry species, although I used to do a lot of the small shrubs as well. I probably collect about 20 species now and I’d rather put my energy into collecting native ones.’ Tim is self-employed but will often have people working alongside him, which is necessary considering the volume of seeds that can be gathered from some trees. ‘We can do well depending on the species. The largest quantities are acorns and we’ll do tonnes of those. The most we’ve done in a year is five tonnes but the usual amount is up to three. We’ll also do many hundreds of kilos of dry hawthorns. They’re the biggest collections by far.’ The occasional heavy work comes with a need to follow the Forestry Commission’s strict regulations regarding forest reproductive material, the generic name for the seeds, cones, cuttings and planting stock commercially marketed for use in forest establishment. Because he is a seed supplier, Tim has to go through a process of informing the Forestry Commission about where and when he wants to collect, including details of the provenance of the seed, what species he is collecting and how long it will take. A HUMAN TOUCH With this high level of emphasis placed on the provenance and traceability, Tim feels British seed collectors are in a strong position for the future. ‘I think provenance will increasingly become more important. That’s the reason we have our business. If it were just left to the open European market we would be swamped with cheap European imports.’ He adds: ‘The fact that there is this provenance issue means that we’ve got to have somebody to collect here. It gives us a little advantage over some other industries that are open to that kind of European competition.’ Tim initially got involved in collecting through a family friend whose father was starting up a

“I think provenance will become more important. That’s the reason we have our business” Shropshire-based seed business called Forestart, one of several businesses, including Alba Trees in Scotland and Shropshire’s Maelor Forest Nurseries, that place a high emphasis on native species. At Forestart, manager Helen Richardson has been helping the firm sell primarily native seeds wholesale to the nursery industry for 15 years. ‘We collect forestry and native species from all over the UK, everywhere from northern Scotland to down south and Wales,’ says Helen. ‘Our collectors work throughout the UK or we collect ourselves and bring everything back to Shropshire to process it.’ Forestart’s operation encompasses 22 of the 24 seed zones in the UK. Popular choices include hedging and forestry species such as hawthorn and beech, along with rowan collected from Scotland. Despite offering more than 400 species of seed, gathering them is a business that requires a human touch, as Helen explains: ‘It is done purely by hand. Things like acorns are collected off the ground once they’ve fallen and fruits such as cherries are collected off the tree. Most hawthorns are collected off the bush, literally just skipped off.’ This all requires considerable human effort, and a number of seasonal staff. ‘In the autumn we’ve got a huge number of workers,’ Helen says. ‘We have staff that will come and live on site to help us with all the processing. We also have quite specialist people we employ, such as climbers who work up in Scotland on the native Scots pine.’ BETTER SURVIVAL RATES For those who may not fancy abseiling down tree trunks, but would also still like to enjoy gathering seeds and growing trees themselves, Helen has the following advice. ‘The main thing really is to look for healthy trees, and if doing it for more than a tree for a garden, make sure to collect from a range of trees. If you’re growing 28 trees to put in the end of a field, for example, you don’t want to get all the acorns off one tree. ‘You need to spread where you’re collecting from just to get a bit of genetic diversity,’ adds Helen. ‘The more genetic diversity you’ve got out there, the more trees are likely to be suited to any future environmental changes.’ Better-adapted trees can therefore help to ensure better survival rates and avoid replanting, ultimately safeguarding and restoring native trees throughout the British countryside. At a time when the focus is on protecting our trees from disease, this Seed Gathering Season is more important than ever, for amateur and professional collectors alike. This is one instance where keeping it local makes sense. n For more information on The Tree Council’s Seed Gathering Season and details of events visit seed-gathering-season Autumn/Winter 2013 Tree News 13


The Williams family and the Pontfadog Oak

14 Tree News Autumn/Winter 2013

One stormy night in April, centuries of history came crashing down on the roof of Josephine Williams’ childhood home, breaking more than her heart. Lucy Scott hears her story

Old Man

© Rob Mcbride/


hey say the winds blew strangely that night. The gale did not come from the West, as many often did. And it didn’t arrive with the song many villagers knew well. On the night that the Old Oak fell, it was a wind like no other. This is the story of a tree, known by those who visited it as the Pontfadog Oak. It began its life almost two millennia ago, in a field in North Wales that would become the Williams’ family home, where generations grew in the shadows of its canopy. Josephine Williams – who prefers to be known as Jo – remembers the wind during the night of the 17th of April, 2013, because she knows most of what happened to the tree, and what she cannot recall is recorded in an extensive archive. Curated by Jo at different stages in her life, as a daughter, then a mother and grandmother, the Williams archive is an intermingling of family life and that of this old oak tree, both of which have roots in the Ceiriog earth that are impossible to pull apart. When I visit, Jo lays down pieces from the archive, which overlap like leaves. There are diaries – their dates highlighted with bright marker pens – and newspaper cuttings. There are letters, kept in bulging ring binders, and photographs of relatives, friends and travellers, who posed by the oak over many years. Each picture is neatly annotated on the back, detailing when, who and why. ‘The oak was like an old friend,’ she says, placing photo after photo on the floor. ‘I was proud of it; it deserved its place in the history books.’ That fame did little to protect the oak tree when a ferocious spring wind snuck over the mountains from somewhere north of Llangollen, invading the fields behind the farm where it stood. With a whine, the wind toppled its old body flat – its branches, alive with buds, catching the farmhouse roof tiles as it fell. The next morning, a morning still as glass, Jo’s son Huw – now living at the farmhouse – made the call to her home a few miles down the road. ‘You won’t believe this, mum,’ he said. ‘It’s the tree, it’s gone.’ As the family came to terms with the loss, the nation’s press picked up the story, too. Over the centuries, outsiders had gathered to touch this tree which had lasted over twice the 500 years typically expected of its species and which,
at its largest, could lead visitors on a 42-foot walk around its trunk. Its impressive numbers had won it coverage in

OAK books about the greatest trees on earth. Businessmen tried to buy it, and Victorians arrived on steam trains to marvel at it. Much later, tourists from further afield came to take leaves back home across the seas. And in 1999, Tanya Austin, a girl from Llangennech, nurtured two saplings from what she thought were its seeds for the National Botanic Garden of Wales, such was her belief in its legacy. Dendrologist Michael Lear dated the oak in the late nineties using Forestry Commission techniques. He reckoned it could be as old as 1,628 years, and describes the oak as ‘one of the greatest national assets we had’. ‘Nothing took us back so many generations,’ he says. ‘When you lose a tree, you lose all of its stories.’ This feeling was echoed by 5,320 signatories to a petition filed with the Welsh Assembly last winter by Woodland Trust Wales (Coed Cadw). Still under consideration by the Assembly, it calls for better protection of ancient, veteran and heritage trees. Also last year, a group of experts from the Ancient Tree Forum put together a list of actions costing £5,700 to conserve the Pontfadog Oak. And still, there was nothing made available to the Williams family to support the care of the tree. ‘So many people have come here in pinstriped suits, making promises,’ says Jo. ‘But not one followed them up.’

“I cried for it. I don’t think anyone understood it was my connection with my parents. I grieved”

COWBOYS AND INDIANS Jo only knew the tree as the Old Oak, and in recent years as ‘the Old Man’. She played hide and seek in it and cowboys and indians around it.
In adulthood, the tree and she remained companions; on the day she married, guests gathered by it to raise a glass to the

Autumn/Winter 2013 Tree News 15

FAMILY TREE newlyweds; when new generations arrived she would walk them down the valley to look at the landmark locals say could be seen from half a mile away. And on the day it fell, the family circled around it one last time, as TV cameras and reporters swarmed. ‘There’s my eldest, Eleri,’ she says, pointing to a pregnant woman at the centre of a photograph. ‘So glad we got The Bump by the tree.’ The oak, however, knew generations that Jo did not, some of whom marked their presence with a carving of their initials in its bark. If the tree was as old as Lear thought it could be, it would have begun life in the 4th century, and would have seen light as the age of the Romans began its decline. Its trunk would have broadened as invader Henry II was being battered into retreat by Welsh Prince Owain Gwynedd. When its own heartwood finally retreated, it became a shelter for farmers and animals. Jo and I drive along the winding roads to the farm, where the Old Oak remains in pieces. Five large sections have been carefully laid out in a field next to where it stood, like a lifeless whale washed ashore. ‘It was a family death. I cried for it. I don’t think anyone understood,’ Jo says as we approach a huge patch of bare earth behind the farmhouse. ‘I associated it so strongly with my parents, it was my connection to them. Losing it was losing them again. For a long time, I grieved.’ The plot wasn’t the scene of crisis I’d anticipated – no channels where the roots were wrenched, no sign that anything had lived here. In fact, when it fell, only two roots as thick as a man’s arm and not much longer were revealed. Later, I ask Michael Lear to explain. He’s shocked when I tell him how little of the root system remained. ‘It’s remarkable to think it was

THREE OTHER ANCIENT OAKS The Major Oak of Sherwood Forest, near Edwinstowe, was named after Major Hayman Rooke, who in 1790 included the tree in a book about the oaks of Sherwood. Myth has it that outlaw Robin Hood hid in its hollow trunk. Experts suggest it is at least 1,000 years old. The Capon Oak Tree near Jedburgh is one of the last surviving trees of the ancient Jed Forest. Thought to be at least 1,000 years old, it is said to have sheltered Capuchin monks travelling to Jedburgh Abbey. The Meavy Oak can be found on the borders of Dartmoor. It is said to have been used by preachers before the church was built in the 12th century. Later, it played host to revelry during village festivals.

surviving for so long with so little,’ he says. We walk to the field where it’s lying, the fierce sun illuminating its countless fissures. Its bark is decorated with shreds of sheep wool, dangling like offerings on a wishing tree. Getting closer, I explore a myriad of patterns and textures – the miniature planets of the tree’s monumental universe. In places are charcoal scars. And elsewhere, pencil-thick twigs thrust. I brush my hand over the flush cut of a stump, its rings – shaped with the energy of sap and seasons – now frozen swirls. ‘Its canopy was so vibrant,’ Jo remembers. ‘We couldn’t understand how part of it was dying but part of it was very much alive.’ Dendrologists agree there was something genetically special about the Old Oak, and that its role providing timber had helped it outlive expectation. But it was its position – near animals and away from heavy human traffic – that was the most significant aspect of all. As the tree hollowed, the inside became exposed to light and rain, encouraging bark to form. ‘Livestock going inside would have fertilised the ground, rejuvenating it and helping it to form roots,’ explains Michael. ‘Trees as important as this should have had a care plan,’ he adds. Such protection is being campaigned for by The Tree Council, which has been leading a mission to gain special protected status for trees of great historical, cultural or ecological significance. The organisation believes that the fate of Britain’s ancient trees depends on the individuals who care for them. Talk of fate makes Jo feel ‘eerie’ and reading a diary entry from March 1963 reveals why. ‘Six o’clock at night, half the old oak fell,’ the diary says. Jo picks up the narrative. ‘We were having terrible gales and I heard something crash onto the roof. I shouted to mum, “the chimney’s down”. But when we ran out,

Childhood fun in the shade of the ancient oak tree

16 Tree News Autumn/Winter 2013

family photographs courtesy Josephne williams, daily post

we saw a large limb of the tree had fallen on the roof.’ That night, as she detailed events in her diary, little did she know that history would repeat itself 50 years later, almost to the day. Jo and husband Brian had just gone to bed when they heard a similar crash. ‘The wind had been whining and I heard this noise, like bricks tumbling. I shouted, “something’s wrong. Brian, the chimney’s come down”. We went outside and found car lights fixed on the ash tree next door, and people gathered. It had come down on the neighbour’s house.’ Just a few hours before it got the Old Oak, I ask. She nods. ‘I know, its weird.’ THE STORY MOVES FORWARD That night, Rob McBride was 10 miles away at his Shropshire home, unaware of this banshee wail, but felt the storm all the same. A campaigner for ancient trees, he’s frustrated by the lack of interest in what was one of the world’s oldest green monuments. ‘If the Pontfadog Oak had been a castle, it would have been protected,’ he says. Rob is now part of a consortium, including The Tree Council, the Woodland Trust and the Ancient Tree Forum, working to get the Welsh Assembly to recognise green monument status for other trees, including the Oak at Gate of the Dead, a 1,200-year-old tree also standing in the Ceiriog Valley. ‘The oak provided a unique window into the past, says Bryn Hughes, a friend of the Williams family who played by the Old Oak as a child and recently took tourists on walking tours to see it. ‘Now it’s gone.’ I ask Jo who owned the tree. ‘No one,’ she shoots back. ‘We are all temporary custodians. Now, it’s up to the next generation.’ Her son Huw and daughterin-law Dianne are raising money to keep the tree in the valley, amid ideas about what happens next that include hauling it away to a museum. Michael Lear tells me that left to decay, the tree could support ecosystems for ‘decades upon decades’. However, its position on the farm – which made its long life possible – has become its worst enemy. Visitors continue to flock from all over the world to see it, leaving the Williams family with little privacy. As a result, the family regards the option of leaving it be as a complex one. But another chapter is beginning to germinate, one that may see the Old Oak travel

Jo’s daughterin-law Dianne and, below, Jo on her wedding day through more millennia yet. Attempts to micropropagate an exact clone of the tree are taking place at both the National Botanic Garden of Wales and the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. ‘This way it can be part of a new age,’ Jo says. ‘This is how the story moves forward.’ Back at her home, Jo goes to fetch the tiny seedling she’s growing from one of the oak’s acorns. It’s not a clone, but it will have inherited some of the strengths of its parent. As I wait to see this new growth, I leaf through a book on the heritage of trees and find a quote from naturalist Alexander von Humboldt, who wondered 200 years ago why we feel for trees. ‘Because we identify with them,’ he said. It is that. But it is more. For Jo, it is memories, ghosts, shadows, the heartbeats of so many – and the Old Oak had them all suspended in its branches.

“The oak provided a unique window into the past. Now it’s gone”

n Read more about The Tree Council’s Green Monuments Campaign at green-monuments

Autumn/Winter 2013 Tree News 17



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The journal of expert opinion, science and research

Citizen strength Dr Linda Davies, director of OPAL, the Open Air Laboratories network, on how citizen science can benefit our trees’ future


ver the summer, more than 1,000 trees were surveyed by the public using the OPAL tree health assessment methodology. The Tree Health Survey, designed with scientists from the Food and Environment Research Agency and the Forestry Commission’s Forest Research team, with advisors drawn from many of our leading tree organisations, is the seventh in the OPAL outdoor research and education programmes designed to give citizens an opportunity to contribute to research and to take an active role in protecting our environment. Supported by a grant from the Big Lottery Fund, the OPAL network of universities and other leading environmental organisations has engaged more than half a million members of the public since it began work in 2007, with many ‘citizen scientists’ developing knowledge and skills as they investigate local places, discover local wildlife and learn about the factors that can affect it. The information they have gathered is being used by researchers to investigate everything from soil condition to thermal comfort, and OPAL is now influencing the citizen science agenda at European and international level. It currently leads the European Citizen Science Association

launched in Brussels in June 2013.1 But citizen science is nothing new. Scientists have been studying and practising citizen science for decades2 and the public has observed and recorded data from fish stocks to flowering since time immemorial. The difference today is that vast amounts of data gathered by citizens are now more accessible and can be digitised, stored, classified and analysed using different parameters. Technology is generating a wave of

References: 1 ECSA holding website; www3. opal/european citizenscience 2 Dickinson, J.L. & Bonney, R. Citizen Science: public participation in environmental research, 2012, Cornell University Press

new interest in citizen science. Academics recognise that good survey design can generate high quality data and that technology such as smart phones can pinpoint sites and provide photographic evidence to support biological records and habitat features. For Britain’s trees, the evidence citizen science can produce is crucial. We need to gather data from all corners of Britain and scientists alone cannot do this. The OPAL Tree Health field pack contains everything participants need to carry out a tree survey in their neighbourhood and to identify selected invasive pests and diseases. Forest Research, the UK’s main tree research organisation, will analyse the resulting data to better understand and manage the spread of pests and pathogens threatening Britain’s trees. We urgently need more people to get involved so please get in touch with OPAL. A more informed and active public will help to safeguard the future of our forests and woodlands. n Tree Health Survey details are at www.opal TreeSurvey. Read more about tree health on page 22

Autumn/Winter 2013 Tree News 19


Preserving the pyramids of the north

The atmospheric pinewoods of Scotland hold the key to a conservation success story, but today they face a greater threat than ever before. In an extract from his recent book, writer and zoologist Clifton Bain examines their future 20 Tree News Autumn/Winter 2013

Clifton Bain is director of the IUCN Peatland Programme and an environmental campaigner


t is surprising how few people are aware of the ancient pinewood remnants, tucked away in the far corners of Scotland’s remote glens; survivors of woodland that cloaked much of the land several thousand years ago. Fortunately, dedicated effort has led to great improvements in the management and legal protection of the Caledonian pinewoods (as they are officially named under wildlife law). This is one of the great success stories in nature conservation but there is still a challenge ahead in managing this vulnerable and important habitat. Ten years ago, a new Scottish Forestry Grant Scheme was introduced with a focus on the expansion of the existing woods by natural regeneration. A year later the Scottish Parliament introduced the Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004 which gave all public bodies a duty to conserve biodiversity. Private owners of the pinewood Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) were given objectives to protect current wildlife and to improve the condition of unfavourable sites. At last attention was being given to bringing the ancient pinewood sites back to life. The statutory conservation body Scottish Natural Heritage was given powers to provide the ‘carrots’ of grants and advice to landowners along with the seldom-used ‘sticks’ of compulsory orders and fines. In 2005, a Government report on the condition of the pinewoods stated that just over half the protected sites were favourable. The new approach of setting objectives aimed at repairing and expanding the woods was largely working. Within the Forestry Commission Scotland sites there was a highly visible conservation effort on a massive scale. Non-native plantations in the old pinewoods had been felled and left to waste, the small trees being of little commercial use. The resulting scene was not pretty. At sites such as Glenmore, Glen Garry and Glen Einig, bleached stems and branches on the ground formed an impenetrable carpet. This effect is temporary and in time the material will rot and woodland plants will return. Large areas of moorland around the pinewoods had also been managed to encourage regeneration

and expansion of the pinewood habitat through fencing and reduction in deer numbers. One of the most heart-warming features of this work is the convincing evidence that control of grazing animals leads to spectacular regeneration of the pine and its broadleaved companion species. Even in the extreme wet, west coast, conditions of Barisdale and Beinn Eighe there is rich growth of young trees within the fenced deer exclosures. The woodlands were bursting to recover and the prolific growth of young trees has proved wrong the sceptics who believed these ancient forests to be infertile and at the end of their lives.

Standing in an ancient pinewood helps us put our own troubled times into perspective of the smaller pinewoods, getting this right is an urgent task. It is not just the immediate deer populations that pose a threat to our pines, but wider changes, too. For the pinewoods, adapted to grow in a cooler climate, a warmer future may hold serious threats. Hotter summers mean greater risk of fires and temperature change may benefit insect and fungal pest species, such as needle blight, which infest trees. A perverse threat, however, is the damaging response of those who would prematurely abandon conservation effort in the pinewoods, assuming them to be doomed by climate change. There is considerable uncertainty about the precise impact of climate change and it is too soon to be giving up on a species that has survived here for more than 9,000 years.

Herd mentality In the last 50 years alone deer numbers have doubled to around 350,000 in Scotland. Fencing has long been used as a conservation solution but has its drawbacks. The complete lack of grazing means the ground flora gets swamped by plants that would naturally be grazed and this can even inhibit tree growth. Ideally the regenerating forest should have light levels of grazing. The longer-term solution is to reduce deer numbers. It is argued that with lower numbers of deer, not only is the woodland in better condition but the overall deer population becomes healthier. Inshriach pinewood saw some of the earliest conservation work involving a dramatic reduction of the deer herd, followed by on-going management to keep numbers down. The vigorous response of new young tree growth springing up from the heather can now be seen, where regeneration had been suppressed for more than 150 years. At Abernethy, the RSPB is being increasingly strategic in its approach to deer control. The overall population has been significantly reduced and, while reserve staff continue to cull heavily on the forest expansion area that is regenerating well, deer are not culled from a large part of the established woodland. This recognises that deer (and other herbivores) are part of the ecosystem and act as habitat engineers, helping to create and maintain micro niches and vegetation succession. Considering the critical state of many

Carbon future

Deer populations need careful management in the pinewoods

The fact that individual trees can live up to 500 years also means that, although stressed, some pine trees may survive the worst of the changing climate. We should therefore seek to make our few remaining natural habitats as robust and healthy as possible. In a damaged state, the woods and their wildlife will certainly be more at risk of extinction.

A new source of funding for pinewood management may come from the carbon markets established to help tackle climate change. Pinewoods, like other woodlands, remove carbon from the atmosphere by photosynthesis and store it in roots, branches and the surrounding soil. The Scottish Forest Alliance is an innovative partnership between BP, RSPB, Forestry Commission Scotland and Woodland Trust Scotland aimed at restoring native woodland and exploring the carbon benefits. Native pinewoods have the potential to be managed to produce valuable Scots pine timber, while maintaining and enhancing their important ecological value as habitat. Some of the trees planted or naturally regenerated in the last 50 years will be of a harvestable age within a few decades. The contribution this can make to the economy of rural communities increases further when timber is processed locally, using small-scale sawmill equipment. Public access to the pinewoods requires careful management to allow visitors to experience these ancient natural wonders whilst also avoiding disturbance to wildlife and damage to habitat. Zoning of activities within pinewoods to provide strict conservation areas, recreation areas, or commercial wood production is an important part of planning for their future, although it is not necessary to achieve all these goals in every part of the pinewood, or in every pinewood. It is right that some woods should be left unharvested to provide a natural benchmark. Just like the pyramids, the pinewoods may have lost many of their treasures and original structure but they still hold many fascinations. Standing in an ancient pinewood, where individual trees have survived through society’s massive changes since medieval times, helps us put our own troubled times into perspective. n The Ancient Pinewoods of Scotland – A Traveller’s Guide by Clifton Bain, is published by Sandstone Press RRP £24.99

Autumn/Winter 2013 Tree News 21

Sylva Tree disease

This year has seen a flurry of activity around tree and plant health, after the publication of the Tree Health and Plant Biosecurity Taskforce report and recommendations in May. We hear from some of the key players

Known unknowns wo years ago this autumn, the health of our trees was placed firmly on the UK Government’s agenda with the Tree Health and Plant Biosecurity Action Plan. In our Autumn/Winter issue of 2011, the plan was introduced by Dominic Eyre and David Slawson from the Food and Environment Research Agency (FERA). As they said then, the plan was necessary as a response to ‘the increasing biosecurity threats from new pests and diseases’. Since 2011 work has continued apace to get a tighter rein on the threats – known, suspected, and not yet on the horizon – that face our trees, plants and woodland landscapes. In November 2012 a group of experts was brought together by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) to thrash out what exactly our trees and plants were facing in terms of threats, and how we might respond.

In May, this Expert Taskforce reported back. Its recommendations were clear, and included plans to develop a UK Plant Health Risk Register, which would list the pests, diseases and pathogens that pose a threat to our trees and plants; to appoint a dedicated Chief Plant Health Officer to lead in managing those risks; to develop procedures for preparedness and contingency in the face of pests and disease; to strengthen biosecurity border controls and to address key skills shortages in the area of tree health. We’ve asked some of the key people in the areas of science, funding and public engagement to tell us what their reaction is to the work that’s been done so far.

The campaigners As a campaigning charity the Woodland Trust has broadly welcomed the way the UK Government has responded to the report of the Tree Health and

‘Understanding the risk presented by each pest is not the same as understanding how they might react together’ Austin Brady, Woodland Trust 22 Tree News Autumn/Winter 2013

katie edwards/ ikon


Plant Biosecurity Taskforce, and its subsequent recommendations. However, Austin Brady, the Woodland Trust’s head of conservation, says the UK Plant Health Risk Register currently being drawn up could be treated in a more strategic way. The register is a constantly updated list of the pests, diseases and pathogens that are a threat to our native plants and trees, with its inclusions currently numbering more than 700. But, says Brady, ‘there is a risk that you can separate everything down into an individual pest or pathogen, forgetting that woodlands can be at risk from a combination of pests and diseases.’ ‘Understanding the risk presented by each pest is not the same as understanding how they might react together. We need to think about the kind of response that might be appropriate in natural woodland, as well as the way pests and diseases impact on crops and man-made environments.’ To date, believes Brady, the Taskforce has been weaker on assessing the wider social and environmental impact of tree disease. ‘I would really be keen to see an area of investigation around resilient landscapes,’ he says. ‘Better biodiversity means better resilience, and it would be great to see some of the thinking being pushed in that direction.’

The funding bodies In April, a call for proposals to undertake cutting-edge research in tree and plant health went out. The call was phase two of a major initiative, the Tree Health and Plant Biosecurity Initiative (THAPBI), designed and funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), DEFRA, the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), the Scottish Government and the Forestry Commission. Phase one, which is now complete, provided short ‘Capacity and ConsortiumBuilding Awards’ to encourage scientists outside the tree health field to start thinking about tree health problems. As Tree News Autumn/Winter 2013 Tree News 23

Sylva Tree disease

‘Three years of research on a multidisciplinary project will go some way to address the skills gap’

Tree health timeline

Debbie Harding, BBSRC

Tree Health and Plant Biosecurity Action plan launched



Scientists from FERA discover Chalara ash dieback in natural woodland stock, confirming the outbreak of the disease



Tree Health and Plant Biosecurity Expert Taskforce established, with the University of Cambridge’s Professor Chris Gilligan as chair





Proposals for research in the field of tree health are called for under the Tree Health and Plant Biosecurity Initiative (THAPBI), led by a partnership including DEFRA and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council


2013 The Expert Taskforce produces its final report, with recommendations for how we tackle the health threats to our trees and plants

Environment Secretary Owen Paterson opens the first of a series of summits in London, bringing together a range of organisations to discuss the Taskforce’s recommendations

24 Tree News Autumn/Winter 2013



went to press, applications for the phase two £9 million research fund were in, with peer review to take place in December. The successful applicants will be revealed in January 2014. One of the most important features of THAPBI is that it aims to fund research involving a variety of disciplines, which reflect the interests of the six different funders. As Simon Kerley, head of terrestrial sciences for NERC, says, ‘this is too big a challenge for one arm of research to address on its own.’ In addition, THAPBI seeks applications which focus on how the pests and pathogens interact affect the wider woodland ecosystem. There are also social and economic dimensions to be considered, given trees’ value as commercial materials and their importance in the landscape. ‘What we are seeing now is a lot of new challenges in terms of tree health. We’re seeing pathogens that are able to move into areas where they weren’t otherwise present,’ says Kerley. He cites the example of bluetongue – a disease affecting sheep, cows and other livestock. In 2006 a strain normally seen in Africa somehow made its way to the Netherlands, and from there to the UK, causing panic among northern European farmers. ‘The 2006 bluetongue outbreak was a result of globalisation and weather changes,’ Kerley explains, ‘and these things are happening with animals and plants, including trees all the time. If we understand why examples like bluetongue happened, it could develop a greater understanding of hosts and pathogens across all sorts of ecosystems’. If we get this work right, will we be able to predict where the next threat is coming from? ‘Yes and no,’ says Kerley. ‘If we know what pathogen will come up from

the South of France in the warm weather we can start to mitigate those occurrences. But at the end of the day we don’t know what the unknowns are, and we don’t know how weather, climate or pathogens will change.’ One of the recommendations of the tree health Expert Taskforce was to close the skills gap that exists in tree and plant health science. Can the work THAPBI is funding go towards that? Debbie Harding, leading on THAPBI for for BBSRC, thinks so. ‘Most of the successful research proposals will fund post-doctoral researchers. Three years of research on multidisciplinary projects is going to give them a good training in tree health issues and will go some way to address the skills gap.’ What THAPBI aims to encourage is good science;

‘This is too big a challenge for one arm of research to address on its own’ Simon Kerley NERC something that is sorely needed when it comes to identifying and tackling the risks that are out there for our trees and plants. ‘It is essential to be working in an evidence-based environment,’ adds Harding. ‘Solutions based on assumptions and theories can be counter-productive. For example, the initial response to the Chalara outbreak was to cut down trees near the sites where the outbreaks were identified. That included any trees which might have displayed resistance. We need to understand

the problem properly before we take action. That’s what we’ve encouraged with this initiative.’

Secretary of State for the Environment and Climate Change Owen Paterson has called for group working on tree disease

The heritage people

‘If people value the heritage of our plants and trees, they can make informed choices’ Christopher Weddell English Heritage Weddell. ‘It’s a wake-up call to the horticultural trade, and to the government, agriculture, landowners and gardeners and everybody interested in plants.’ The public has had its eyes opened since the headlines about ash dieback first hit the front pages, and that’s something Weddell hopes will help when it comes to getting the tree and plant health message out to a wider audience. ‘I hope that we can get people to understand the risks that biosecurity threats pose to our cultural heritage, and to change our behaviour if we need to. ‘If people value the heritage that trees and plants represent, they can make informed choices when they visit our sites, in terms of where they have gone in the past, and where they can source plants if they

rex features

Christopher Weddell is senior garden adviser at English Heritage, an organisation with around 50 gardeners on its staff, across 11 major garden sites. Weddell, along with representatives from charities such as the National Trust, was also involved in the summits resulting from the Taskforce report. ‘In one of the meetings we had, David Slawson from FERA said “The next threat will probably be unknown to science”,’ recalls

want to replicate some of what they see at home.’

The scientists At FERA, the Food and Environment Research Agency, scientists have been working to identify and tackle threats to our plants for many years. The agency’s Head of Plant Science, Rick Mumford, says that until the outbreak of Chalara ash dieback hit the headlines, much of the activity happening in this area was overlooked. ‘The UK has a strong track record in plant and tree health research, going back decades, and it is something that we are now able to build upon.’ FERA colleagues are currently hard at work developing the UK Plant Health Risk Register. ‘The progress on the register has been immense in a short period of time,’ says Mumford, ‘building on the strength in our pest risk assessment expertise and previous research we have carried out in this field.’ FERA is one of the agencies

‘A lot of us have been dedicating decades to tree and plant health’ Rick Mumford, FERA

bidding for research funding under the Tree Health and Plant Biosecurity Initiative (THABPI). Their existing work, however, is already making a big difference in the field. When Chalara hit, FERA scientists acted quickly to develop and by roll out a programme of on-site DNA diagnostic testing – kits which are now being used by Forestry Commission inspectors in the field to detect ash dieback. As Mumford says, ‘we managed this speed of response because it is grounded on existing research, funded by DEFRA and the EU.’ In May, FERA won plaudits for its ‘Stop the Spread’ display at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, which demonstrated the disastrous effect of non-native species on our trees and plants. ‘In the past, the spotlight hasn’t really been on plant disease, but Chalara has changed that,’ Mumford adds. ‘The renewed focus on plant and tree health is very welcome and will really help us to develop new solutions to the threats we face.’ n Turn over for our guide to just a few of the tree pests and diseases you should watch out for now

Autumn/Winter 2013 Tree News 25

Sylva Tree damage guide

Asian longhorn beetle

Acute oak decline

Forestry Commission

A condition that causes oozing of dark fluid from the stems of mature trees and affects several thousand oaks, mostly in the Midlands, South East England and East Anglia. Can kill trees within five years. Previously unknown bacteria are involved, and scientists are investigating whether the oak jewel beetle is also involved.

Native to China and Korea, it has caused extensive damage to several broadleaved species in the USA and Italy. In 2012, an outbreak (breeding population) was found in Kent, which plant health authorities hope has been eradicated. Individual beetles are occasionally intercepted in woodpackaged imports from the Far East.

Dothistroma needle blight Robert L Anderson,

Horse chestnut leaf miner

An infection of horse chestnut bark, most cases are likely to be caused by the Pseudomonas syringae pathovar aesculi bacterium, previously only observed in Indian horse chestnuts. It causes oozing of dark, sticky fluid, yellowing foliage and premature leaf drop. Fatal in most cases, but there is anecdotal evidence of resistant trees.

The larvae, or caterpillars, of this moth feed inside the leaves, causing brown blotches in late summer. Initially discovered in London in 2002, it is now present in most of England and parts of Wales. Consequences are mostly aesthetic, and effects can be minimised by raking up and burning or composting fallen leaves.

Forestry Commission

Not widely established, but this aggressive, fungus-like organism causes bleeding cankers on beech trees, necrosis of rhododendron, pieris and magnolia leaves, and dieback of bilberry. Although not affecting many trees, its effect on under-storey species makes it a forestry concern.

Forestry Commission

Phytophthora kernoviae

Confirmed in 2011 as the cause of dieback and death of juniper bushes in Northern England and Scotland, this pathogen had previously been almost solely associated with Chilean cedar trees in South America. Infection is often fatal to a plant species already causing conservation concern.

DD Cadahia,

Not believed to be in the wild in Britain, live adults have been trapped at mills during monitoring, and are occasionally intercepted at ports. The beetle introduces a fungus to trees that interferes with resin production.

Horse chestnut bleeding canker

Phytophthora austrocedrae

26 Tree News Autumn/Winter 2013

[not established]

Forestry Commission

Forestry Commission

Also known as Red Band Needle Blight, this fungal infection slowly kills several conifer species, but mostly pines. Symptoms appear first as yellow and tan bands on older needles, which then turn red as the tree dies. The infection is widespread in Britain.

Eight-toothed European spruce bark beetle

Pine processionary moth [not established]

Pine tree lappet moth

The moth takes its name from the nose-to-tail processions of its caterpillars, and in large numbers can severely defoliate pine trees. Like the related oak processionary moth, contact with the pine processionary moth’s hairs can cause health problems in people and animals. It is present in France.

A native of continental Europe, Russia and Asia, this moth’s caterpillars can cause large-scale damage to pine forests, sometimes over thousands of acres. One British outbreak is known, in a pine plantation west of Inverness, Scotland, where specimens were first caught in 2004. Outbreaks are more likely in hot, dry years.

Citrus longhorn beetle [not established]

Caused by the Chalara fraxinea fungus and leading to leaf loss, crown dieback and, usually, death of the ash tree. Chalara has caused significant losses of ash trees in continental Europe, and was first identified in Britain in 2012. Suspected sightings in new areas must be reported.

From Eastern Asia, they would pose a serious threat to broadleaved species if introduced. The larvae feed inside tree trunks, making them susceptible to other threats. Occasionally individual beetles are intercepted in association with live plants, especially maples, from the Far East. Related to the Asian longhorn beetle.

Emerald ash borer

Great spruce bark beetle

Can seriously damage ash trees through its larvae tunnelling under the bark and disrupting nutrient flow. Native to Asia and Eastern Russia, it is causing widespread damage in North America, and expanding its range westwards across Russia.

Found throughout mainland Europe, now established in Wales, western England and southern Scotland. It tunnels into spruce trees to lay eggs under the bark, weakening, and in some cases killing, the trees. Outbreaks can be effectively controlled with a natural predator, Rhizophagus grandis.

David Cappaert,

[not established]

Oak processionary moth

Oak pinhole borer Favouring dead and dying wood, this wood-boring beetle’s population exploded after the 1987 gales in the UK provided an abundance of breeding material in the form of fallen oaks. Logs and timber from salvaged oaks should, therefore, always be regarded as a potential source of these borer beetles.

Malcolm Storey, Bioimages

Jacques Regad,

Chalara dieback of ash

Feeding caterpillars strip oaks bare of leaves, leaving them vulnerable to other threats. Contact with the caterpillars’ hairs can cause skin rashes and other health problems in humans and animals. Three outbreaks in London and Berkshire are under eradication or control measures. Related to pine processionary moth.

Phytophthora ramorum

Primarily infecting, and usually killing, Lawson cypress, P. lateralis is a virulent pathogen that attacks the roots. The foliage initially turns a light olive-grey, later withering and turning a reddish-brown before the tree dies. There have been outbreaks in South West England, Yorkshire, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

This fungus-like organism causes Ramorum disease (called ‘sudden oak death’ in the USA, where a different strain particularly affects oaks). It can infect many plant and tree species, and has killed many larches in western Britain. It is controlled by compulsory destruction of sporulating host plants.

Forestry Commission

Phytophthora lateralis


Forestry Commission

Some of the pests and diseases to look out for now

[not established]

Sweet chestnut blight

A microscopic worm that causes pine wilt, which can kill trees in months. It originates from North America but has spread to Europe and East Asia. Pinewood nematode has caused extensive damage to pine in Japan and, following its establishment in Portugal, is a threat to European pine forests.

Caused by the fungus Cryphonectria parasitica, which killed up to 4 billion trees in North America in the early 20th century. Now established in continental Europe, it was first identified in the UK on imported plants in Warwickshire and East Sussex in 2011. Symptoms include dead bark visible as a sunken canker.

Claudette Hoffman

Pinewood nematode

Autumn/Winter 2013 Tree News 27


Trees for Cities celebrates its 20th birthday in 2013 and continues to plant trees not just in the UK but across the world. Here Millie Brown describes one of its more recent projects, planting the revered peepal tree in Nepal

Peepal power


n October 2011, the world hit a new record; more people officially live in cities than rural areas. The UN predicts that by 2030, this will increase to six out of every ten people living in cities, and expanding urban populations enhance pressures on already limited resources. Quality of urban life is increasingly challenged by factors such as air pollution, waste and water management and disposal, transport, housing and health provision. If sustainable interventions aren’t implemented, urban expansion will exacerbate these challenges, making the world’s cities unhealthy, unsustainable places to live. Trees for Cities is the only organisation dedicated to planting and helping others to plant trees in cities across the world. During 2013, it has been celebrating its 20th anniversary, with projects throughout the UK and further afield, including a major campaign to plant 20,000 trees in Nairobi, Kenya – one of Africa’s fastest-growing cities. Everywhere the organisation works, however, it teams up with local partners to create projects that deliver significant and often life-changing outcomes for urban dwellers – focusing on food security, income, environmental protection and the advancement of education and learning.

Deforestation dangers

The peepal is helping to mitigate climate change as well as creating jobs

28 Tree News Autumn/Winter 2013

Since June 2012, Trees for Cities staff have been working with the young people of the Syanja district of Central Nepal, where 72% of the population live below the US$1.25-a-day poverty line and most of the population is hugely reliant on natural resources for survival. Global climate change has increased glacial melting with floodwaters rising higher every year and the temperature has increased by an average of 0.06°C a year since 1997. In addition to this, population growth has increased pressure on Nepal’s fragile natural resources. Deforestation has led to degradation of unique habitats and biodiversity (the red panda, Ailurus fulgens, a species reliant on tree cover, is listed as

Millie Brown is regional and international projects coordinator for the charity Trees for Cities

vulnerable on the IUCN Red List due to habitat loss). This has reduced the ability of local communities to utilise forest products, jeopardised local livelihoods and contributed to land erosion that causes sedimentation downstream of the highlands. Sedimentation increases the chance of flash floods and exacerbates Nepalese vulnerability to natural disasters. If no action is taken to reduce the impacts of climate change and environmental damage, these remote Nepalese communities will find themselves thrust further into poverty with even fewer resources to rely on for their survival. Trees for Cities works in partnership with a local youth organisation, the Matsyanarayan Eco-Conservational Trust (MECT), to plant peepal trees in the Syanja district. Together they help participants gain new skills including how to plant and maintain trees, enhancing their employment opportunities and allowing individuals to put the skills they’ve learnt into practice at home, whilst raising awareness of environmental issues and the importance of adaptation to climate change.

The sacred fig Project leader, 18-year-old Anup Chalise, says: ‘We love these trees because we get oxygen, medicine as well as beautiful leaves useful to make paintings and handicrafts from them.’ The peepal tree (Ficus religiosa) is of high cultural, religious and environmental significance to the people of Nepal. Eighty per cent of Nepal’s population is Hindu. It is believed that the peepal tree, or ‘sacred

fig’ as it is also known, is the incarnation of the Hindu god Lord Vishnu. Trees for Cities has helped volunteers plant peepal trees on the banks of holy river Krishna Gandaki, to create a religious tourist site where worshippers can visit to pay homage to their sacred trees. This will bring income to the area and provide opportunities for local communities to derive livelihoods selling gifts made from the peepal leaves. Participants in the project are shown how the leaves of peepal can be used in craft production to create various products that can then be sold as gifts. One peepal tree can capture up to 2252kg of CO2 per hectare a year, removing carbon and other greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. This directly increases the carbon storage capacity of Nepal, providing a climate change adaptation technique. Planting trees also stabilises land and reduces landslide risk. Trees planted on river banks offer villages flood protection. As climate patterns and weather events become more frequent and increasingly unpredictable, these afforestation measures will reduce the risk of livelihood and environmental damage. Planting peepal has positive impacts on biodiversity; it can provide suitable habitat for various types of fauna including black-hooded orioles (Oriolus xanthornus), mynah birds (Acridotheres tristis tristis), various species of dove, bats, pigs, rodents, parrot, and monkeys. It will also provide habitat for pollinating insects that help local agriculture. Peepal leaves can be used in traditional medicine to help cure a wide range of

ailments, such as jaundice, asthma, diabetes, diarrhoea and epilepsy. This project has been successfully replicated by many of the original volunteers who Trees for Cities trained in tree planting and maintenance. They have passed on their new skills to friends and family members in their own communities, leading to an increase in the number of peepal trees planted in the region beyond those planted directly through the project. This is exactly what Trees for Cities hopes to achieve. By inspiring and enabling even more people to plant trees, communities around the world are better prepared to adapt to changing climate and increased urbanisation. n To find out more about the work Trees for Cities does in Nepal and around the world, visit

Sangita Majhi, 16, is a member of a local youth group trained in tree maintenance

Twenty years of Trees for Cities Trees for Cities is an international urban tree planting charity founded in 1993 to advance the education of the public in the appreciation of trees and their amenity value. Since 2003 it has worked in partnership with overseas nongovernmental organisations in order to benefit more people in even more cities across the globe. To date Trees for Cities has planted 400,000 trees and engaged more than 125,000 people in its work. During 2013, projects have been taking place to mark the Trees for Cities 20th birthday and a further 100,000 trees have been planted to reach a target of half a million trees by the end of the birthday year.

Autumn/Winter 2013 Tree News 29


Small-scale biomass makes a lot of sense, says Andrew Llanwarne. The problems lie in ramping up operations

Biomass: why good things come in small packages I

t’s been hard to miss the news coverage of biomass energy over the past year. Once touted by the UK Government as a sustainable form of energy, the Energy Secretary, Ed Davey, now seems to be having second thoughts. Local campaigners have been fighting proposals for biomass power plants up and down the country, backed by environmental organisations which argue that these projects actually add to carbon emissions and cause unsustainable changes in land use. Woodland owners, who have been encouraged to think of biomass energy as a potential source of income, may be wondering where to go next. Biomass covers a range of materials with origins in plants and animals, from forestry residues to chicken litter, as well as crops grown specifically for energy production such as short-rotation coppiced wood. When biomass is burned, the CO2 released can be taken out of the atmosphere again by new growth, so it doesn’t contribute to climate change. This attractive idea makes a lot of sense at a local, small-scale level. Materials which would otherwise go to waste can be used to provide heat for homes, schools and village halls, replacing expensive fossil fuel alternatives. It’s also very efficient, converting up to 90% of the chemical energy from the biomass into usable heat. Some district heating schemes also use locally-sourced biomass to provide combined heat and power (CHP) to homes, offices and industry, at levels of efficiency above 70%, with most

30 Tree News Autumn/Winter 2013

Counterblast Andrew Llanwarne

Friends of the Earth Scotland Board member and spokesperson on Biomass

of the output as heat. The Biomass Energy Centre provides practical details for producers of biomass for energy. The big problem with the projects the UK and Scottish governments want to subsidise is their scale – and the emphasis on producing electricity. They would be dependent on large-scale imports of wood pellets using whole trees, not just forest residues. In May 2013 a BBC investigation showed that one source of fuel for Drax power station in Yorkshire would be

mature swamp woodland in the southern US, rich in biodiversity. Large biomass plants produce electricity at an efficiency level of around 25%. Three-quarters of the trees burned would effectively be wasted, yet would still release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, adding to climate change for decades before new trees could grow. The upsurge in demand for timber would lead to subsistence communities being pushed off their land to make way for plantations, and would raise food prices, as has happened with biofuels. So while it’s a sound idea for UK timber suppliers to get involved in local biomass energy projects, as part of sustainable woodland management, they should support those campaigning against the big biomass projects that are anything but sustainable.

Three-quarters of the trees burned would effectively be wasted, yet would still release carbon dioxide


Picture perfect Each season at Tree News we are impressed by your entries for our photo competition. This issue, our winning image comes from Ben Anderton, and you can see it on page 3. Below are the stunning entries from the runners up

WIN A DRAM We know you love to take photos of your favourite trees, so please share them with us! Send your best photos to Tree News, and our favourite will win a bottle of 12-year-old Aberfeldy single malt whisky. To enter, send your photos digitally, in high resolution, to tree@, or tweet to @treenews. Copyright remains with the photographer, but entering gives Tree News and The Tree Council permission to publish your images. The closing date for entries is 20 December 2013.

Stuart Meikle 'Down the woodland path'

Clare Hussey 'Rowallan Gardens' (via Twitter)

Tony Russell 'Ash in the Lake District'

Autumn/Winter 2013 Tree News 31


Italian sculptor Aron Demetz has made his name using wood to recreate ethereal human forms. Ava Roeg finds out how he does it


32 Tree News Autumn/Winter 2013

‘Burning Man’ is cast in bronze from a charred wood sculpture


ron Demetz is an Italian sculptor exploring the human condition one woodcarving at a time. A man who clearly possesses a gift, Demetz has made his name across the world by creating inscrutable, unearthly characters hewn from the trees of his homeland. Hailing originally from Vipiteno, in Northern Italy, a medieval town dotted with large pine trees at the foot of the Alps, Demetz’s story is one that brings age-old woodcarving techniques into a very modern world. Using wood, resin and other natural materials in the construction of his human figures, Demetz forges a connection between creature and nature. ‘I love finding the peculiar similarities between wood and humans,’ he explains. ‘For example, resin is a part of a tree that I think is very poetic – when there is a wound, the resin creates a new skin, or bark, to protect the tree. I transform the resin and adapt it on the human form.’ Demetz’s artistic path began when he left Italy to study fine art in Nuremburg, Germany. Afterwards, he returned to the Northern Italian mountains to study woodcarving in the town of Wolkenstein (also known as Selva Gardena), set in the Dolomites, in an area famed for its tradition of figurative carving. There, Demetz realised that he possessed a skill in woodworking, and forged a bond with the material he is now so connected to. Inspired by the similarities and differences between humankind and nature, Demetz uses his art to explore what it means to be human within a wider universe. This yearning to explore and juxtapose gives way to one of the truly captivating features of much of his work – the melancholic yet somewhat

‘Heimat’ shows a human figure rooted to earth

ethereal mood embodied in his sculptures. A calm female face, for example, juxtaposed against the harsh, ragged and unfinished nature of the wood he uses, has an incredibly powerful effect. ‘I have always been inspired by the body as a container for abstract concepts or meaning,’ explains the artist. ‘I’m trying to combine a few sculptural elements and use a figurative language to create “spaces” in which the audience can discover itself.’ The tools Demetz uses help this process along. He favours a combination of traditional wood carving tools and modern chainsaws and hammers, which together create both harsh and soft elements within his work. In his recent sculptures ‘Heimat’ and ‘Burning Man’, he even used fire to char the surface of his wooden figures, which he then cast in bronze. Demetz’s training, coupled with the inspiration that he drew from the Italian woodcarving tradition, allowed him to bring together the two strands of classical and modern art seen in his sculptures, creating something that many viewers have described as truly beautiful. However, his own take on their beauty is a bit more complex. ‘Beauty is something that touches you deeply; something that is not easy to define,’ he says. ‘I don’t try to communicate beauty or emotions – they come through the work itself.’ Demetz feels that his role is merely to channel the beauty of trees into human vessels. As the trees are rooted to the earth, Demetz is rooted to his personal history, and to the methods he has formed over the years. ‘I have strong roots in my work, my territory, my own history and land,’ he says. Perhaps this is why he is able to create figures which are so easy to connect with.

“I love finding the peculiar similarities between wood and humans”

■ ‘Heimat and Burning Man’, two works by Aron Demetz, will be on display at St James’ Square Gardens, London, SW1Y 4JS, until the end of November. See for details Autumn/Winter 2013 Tree News 33


The living dead

The death of an ancient oak is not the end of the story. It has a whole new existence as a home to more than 2,000 species of birds, insects and fungi, more than any other habitat

34 Tree News Autumn/Winter 2013

1 Cardinal click beetle

2 Stag beetle

3 Purple hairstreak butterfly

4 Cobweb beetles

7 Rare oak polypore

8 Tawny owl

This beetle, Ampedus cardinalis, is a hardwood decay specialist that develops in the red or brown rotten heartwood of old oaks. The insect is rather distinctive with its bright red wing cases and shiny black thorax. An even rarer species, the oak click beetle or Lacon querceus, is only known from Windsor Great Park and Forest.

The attractive purple hairstreak butterfly, Neozephyrus quercus, seldom strays far from the old oak tree. The tree’s canopy can support an entire colony with its food source of honeydew. Observers are unlikely to see the coloured upper wings as the butterflies spend most of their day in the tree canopy.

5 Oak bracket

The relationship between fungi and trees is a very important one as they are the reason for the hollowing of ancient oak trees, which help them to reach great age. Oak bracket, Pseudoinonotus dryadeus, is an orange-brown fungus with a felted surface that leaks amber brown droplets. For this reason it is also known as the Weeping Polypore. Despite its name, it can also be spotted on beech, alder and birch trees.

6 Great spotted woodpecker

The great spotted woodpecker Dendrocopos major and other insect-eating birds find oak trees, with their deep crevices in the bark and decaying wood, especially important in winter months for searching for hibernating insects. They can be spotted ferociously drilling into the bark of an old oak, breaking into the decaying wood in search of the various insects.

Piptoporus quercinus, the rare oak polypore, is a priority species under the UK Biodiversity Action Plan and is one of just four non-lichenised fungi to be protected by law. It occurs on dead oaks or on the dead branches and trunks of living trees where it lives in brown rot on the tree’s heartwood. It is found mainly in southern England.

The name of the stag beetle Lacon querceus comes from its distinctive mandibles, found on males that resemble antlers. These creatures are the largest terrestrial beetle in Britain and currently a globally threatened species. Stag beetles thrive on moist, buried dead wood as a suitable habitat for its larvae, especially oak, and can be found in parks or gardens.

Cobweb beetles specialise in older trees, the older the better. Ctesias serra is the most likely species to be found and the larvae are of a ‘woolly bear’ appearance with gingery spiny bristles. Trinodes hirtus is a great rarity and has blackish bristles. The larvae live within the crevices amongst dead bark on the tree trunks where they are associated with the webs of bark-frequenting spiders.

The robust tawny owl, Strix aluco, is another bird that thrives in dead oak trees. It feels most at home in deciduous woodlands and an old oak tree provides the tawny owl with cavities perfect for a roost site during daylight hours. The shelter of the dead oak is also used as a safe nesting place for the owl and its young while it leaves to perform nocturnal activities such as finding prey.

Autumn/Winter 2013 Tree News 35

getting to know you

Out of the woods

Ray Mears, wilderness survival expert, instructor, author and TV presenter, talks about the 30th anniversary of his bushcraft company Woodlore and safeguarding British trees


s Woodlore celebrates reaching a major milestone this year and you publish your autobiography, My Outdoor Life, how important has 2013 been for you? It’s very exciting. These things all coincide, 30 years of Woodlore, 20 years of our courses in the Arctic and next year I’ll be 50. In writing my autobiography I figured I’ve probably got enough stuff to talk about. It was just the right time. Woodlore now runs courses all over the world, in every environment. Why do you think it has proved so popular? It was the first company teaching bushcraft in Europe and for that reason and we’re probably the best at it. We move with the flow and I’ve got a wonderful team who work for me with some real rising stars. I’m looking forward one day to just being able to sit round the fire and tell tales and let them do all the work! You’ve dedicated your career to passing on knowledge about survival in natural environments all over the world. Do you think we are still in danger of losing many of our traditional outdoor skills? I think many skills have already been lost and they are being lost on a daily basis. Not

so much here, where there’s a resurgence of interest in bushcraft and learning these things, which is great. But I think overseas in the indigenous communities in the last ten years we’ve seen a massive loss of traditional knowledge. Although efforts are being made to stem that, in most places it’s a very difficult thing to prevent. It’s not so much the skills but the wisdom that goes with it. Anyone can learn to make a spear, but it’s knowing when to use it, what time of day, and under what circumstances is the tide right to spear a stingray. It’s this detailed knowledge of the habitat that goes with the tool that is often forgotten, and sadly anthropologists have been woefully inadequate in their descriptions of these things. In your autobiography you describe training yourself in bushcraft during childhood adventures in the North Downs. What is it about this part of the world that you’re fond of? It’s covered in trees. I love forests and that’s what makes it special to me. I would say that’s my tribal homeland where I started. I know the secrets and where to find the odd and unusual species hidden in the woods. That’s what it’s all about, finding the familiarity. You know, when I look at woodland I don’t see an environment that comprises many individual trees, I see one

“When I look at woodland I don’t see an environment of individual trees, I see one living organism” 36 Tree News Autumn/Winter 2013

Ray Mears is very much at home in the outdoors

the sake of nature. I met somebody like that recently in Tasmania who looked after the giant crayfish they have. He’s not on either side of the fence, he’s on the crayfish’s side and I think that’s important. So whatever person is in that job that should be their guiding principle, but society isn’t very good at that. Ash is particularly under threat at the moment and you’ve previously said the species is one of your favourite trees. What are some of its qualities that particularly appeal to you? I think ash dieback has taken us all by surprise. I thought we would have been more on the ball and I wonder if it isn’t the case for nature to find a solution. Ash is one of the first trees I learned about. I mean it’s such an incredible tree. For a start, it splits well, it’s straight grained, very strong, enduring and makes great handles. I always used to make axe handles from ash and it makes wonderful gunnels on canoes. You can pickle the keys and eat the seeds. So it’s got a lot of uses. When it’s dead you find a very useful fungus growing on it called Daldinia concentrica, also known as cramp ball, which is brilliant for fire lighting.

living organism and that’s how it feels to me when I’m in a forest. I now live in the Weald, which is a brilliant part of England. It’s magical, a really special place. But like most big forests it’s quite a secretive place. You have to get out on your feet and explore it to find the magic.

The North Downs, which Ray loves

Earlier this year the government announced that it would hire a chief plant health officer with a remit to lead the fight against tree and plant disease. Do you think this is a worthwhile plan? I really think it’s a good idea to have a head honcho for plants and trees but I think it’s important that if you give somebody that title, that’s what they should do. You know, I’d envisage this person thinking rather like Treebeard did in Lord of the Rings. They’re not there for the politicians’ sake, or for the environmentalists’ sake, they’re there for

Your Woodlore courses obviously try to reconnect people with this knowledge. What do you find participants take away from the experience? It can be life-changing and you’d be astonished at some of the things that we’ve seen. There are a lot of people who have completely rethought their lives on the basis of what they’ve learned and have gained better spiritual happiness in their lives. Not that that’s our intention. We get a complete cross section of society and I think that’s one of the joys of the project. I think what bushcraft is good for doing is showing the value to something that otherwise wouldn’t necessarily have one. So, for example, foresters tend to look down their noses at birch trees, as historically birch has been seen as a damager of other plant types. That’s true also of sycamore. But these trees have huge economic importance in other parts of the world and in bushcraft we learn to see the values of trees from the root to the furthest most tip. It changes your perception of these species forever and they become friends. ■ MORE INFORMATION Ray’s autobiography, My Outdoor Life, is published by Hodder & Stoughton. He is also embarking on a nationwide lecture tour throughout September and October. For more details visit Autumn/Winter 2013 Tree News 37


Tools of the trade Sarah Ridgeway and Lesley Hall, volunteer Tree Wardens in Warwick, test out the latest tree and shrub care products available

Draper Expert 1.55m universal tree and bush cutter Lightweight and manoeuverable. Fine for small twigs and branches with a clean cut but not sufficiently positive for tougher jobs, even within the advised diameter. The cord system is less positive than a lever would be. Easy to use: lllll Versatility: lllll Overall quality: lllll

Spear & Jackson Razorsharp Advance ratchet anvil twist secateurs Fairly lightweight secateurs, with comfortable, swivel handle – but still quite large for smaller hands. Cuts woody stems and thin branches well, but not suited to lighter jobs such as dead-heading. Easy to use: lllll Versatility: lllll Overall quality: lllll

Draper Expert stainless steel soft grip gardening spade A well-made and well-balanced spade that should give good service. Easy to use: lllll Versatility: lllll Overall quality: lllll

38 Tree News Autumn/Winter 2013

Spear & Jackson Razorsharp Advance geared bypass lopper 21� Good cutting action that dealt well with branches up to 30mm in diameter. The non-slip grip handles are quite short and they need to be opened wide to cut, so may not be suitable for all tasks. Easy to use: lllll Versatility: lllll Overall quality: lllll

HOW TO… Wilkinson Sword ultra light branch cutter Easy to use, but only time will tell how well the nylon drawstring will last. Good for low branches, not so good for anything over 6ft. Easy to use: lllll Versatility: lllll Overall quality: lllll

Wilkinson Sword Razorcut medium bypass pruner Lightweight but with a fairly wide grip, so not really suited to smaller hand. Safety catch was a bit fiddly, but overall not bad. Easy to use: lllll Versatility: lllll Overall quality: lllll

Collect seeds Young trees can be bought from a garden centre or nursery but a more rewarding way can be to grow your own 1. There’s no place like home The ideal situation is to collect seeds from trees that are growing well in your area and are obviously adapted to local conditions. Think carefully before collecting seeds hundreds of miles from where you will plant the tree. If the trees are on private land ask the permission of the tree’s owner before collecting any seed. 2. Timing is everything Don’t collect the first seeds to fall from a tree, as later seed will probably be of better quality. Watch carefully as your seed ripens for delaying too long may mean the squirrels, other animals and birds beat you to it! However, always leave some seeds, as they are an important food source for wildlife. 3. Have a safe trip Once you’ve gathered your seeds, use paper or hessian bags to take them home. Don’t use plastic bags as they may cause the seeds to become too moist, which will reduce their chance of germination. Put seeds from different species of trees in separate bags and label them. 4. Finally, always remember the old adage The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.

Joseph Bentley geared bypass loppers

Seed collecting advice reproduced from The Good Seed Guide, The Tree Council, £4

A good clean cut. With the gearing and the wooden handles these are fairly heavy which could be a disadvantage in tackling bigger jobs. Easy to use: lllll Versatility: lllll Overall quality: lllll

Collecting seeds from trees near the area you’re planning to plant them ensures you are growing something that is adapted to local conditions Autumn/Winter 2013 Tree News 39

Out and about Explore the great outdoors in the UK’s finest woods and forests. This time of year sees trees in their most spectacular autumn finery Glen Affric, Strathglass, SCOTLAND

Go native in the highlands NEED TO KNOW Opening times: n All year round.


escribed by many as the most beautiful glen in Scotland and located just over 30 miles from Inverness, Glen Affric rolls together spectacular lochs, magnificent mountains and one of the largest remaining strongholds of ancient Caledonian pine forest in the country. This woodland remnant from the end of the wildlife is abundant around Glen Affric. Visitors last ice age is home to many gnarled old Scots pine can expect to hear an accompanying soundtrack trees, often called granny pines, striking silver birch, from chirruping chaffinches and the great spotted young pine saplings and venerable oaks shrouded woodpeckers that enjoy the grubs found in the dead in grey lichen. trees along the walk. Walkers will find a series of paths to Tread carefully on the springy carpet of guide them through the area from the car pine needles beneath your feet and you park situated near Dog Falls, a series of may also spy roe deer, pine marten small rapids down which the foaming or even the beautiful, but seldom River Affric dramatically rushes. seen, capercaillie. An excellent introduction to the Like a microcosm of Scotland’s Glen Affric area is along the waymarked red best wild landscapes, Glen Affric is trail, an unhurried two-mile circular almost unparalleled in its diversity. route perfect for families, picnickers While it could have easily been and twitchers. It sets off following the lost to hills left bare for hunting whisky-coloured water down the glen, and the glens planted with row upon and then crosses a bridge with an row of conifers raised for timber, these outstanding view of the River Affric gorge 14,500 hectares of native woodland are before leading you deep into the core of the now rightly appreciated as a jewel in the crown of pinewoods. As a designated National Nature Reserve the Highlands. 40 Tree News Autumn/Winter 2013

Facilities: n Picnic tables, marked trails, information, car parking and toilets. Ranger-led educational walks and tours can also be arranged. Getting there: n Glen Affric is five miles west of Cannich on the Glen Affric road, off the A831. There is an infrequent bus service from Inverness as far as Cannich. For details of public transport visit www.travelinescotland. com. For drivers, Dog Falls car park is 2.5 miles along the Glen Affric road from Cannich. Access: n Walks for all abilities but all the paths from the car parks around Glen Affric cross rough or steep ground.


West Sussex’s wildwood A

NEED TO KNOW Opening times: n All year round. Facilities: n Field museum at the end of the trail, plus car parking and benches.

ccording to legend, Kingley Vale’s ancient aforementioned yews are undeniably the heart of yew trees owe their existence to a the reserve, with several at least 500 years old and tumultuous past and blood spilled in the oldest measuring more than five metres in battle. Impressively gnarled and girth. In autumn, the female trees turn contorted by the ravages of time, the red with berries and thousands of forest veterans that loom over wintering thrushes, fieldfares and visitors today were supposedly redwing flock to gorge themselves planted to mark the graves of slain for winter. Viking warriors in the 9th century. After the Second World War, Whether or not the story is true, Kingley Vale became one of the first this spectacular natural refuge, NNRs in England, thanks largely to north of Chichester in the South the efforts of Sir Arthur Tansley, the kingley vale Downs National Park, could be a first chairman of the Nature fittingly atmospheric and brooding Conservancy Council. His memorial location for a woodland war grave. stone stands at the head of the Vale, a Kingley Vale National Nature Reserve reassuring symbol of past and continuing efforts (NNR) covers 150 hectares of chalk grassland, to safeguard this unique forest. scrub, mixed oak and ash woodland. For walkers there is a wealth to discover, from the oasis of wildlife in the forest to stunning views of the surrounding area, looking over to Chichester harbour and the Isle of Wight. Varied flora and fauna throughout the year are also showcased in a signposted nature trail. Roughly two and a half miles in length, it provides information on resident species and sites of historic interest, including six Bronze Age burial barrows known locally as the Devil’s humps. The

Getting there: n By train to Chichester, and then on foot or by taxi (for three miles). If driving, head north west from Chichester on the B2178 to East Ashling. After the Horse and Groom pub turn right towards West Stoke and follow the signs. Access: n While the Nature Trail is generally accessible to buggies, wheelchairs may struggle as the track is deeply rutted in places.

A fine place for a Viking warrior’s last resting place as well as a great destination for a day out in the country

Autumn/Winter 2013 Tree News 41

Out and about

NEED TO KNOW Opening times: n All year round. Facilities: n Free guide leaflets. Paul, the Hackfall Officer, has put together a series of useful audio guides, available to download via Car parking available. Getting there: n If driving from Ripon, take the A6108 north west to Masham. If travelling from Masham, head out on Thorpe Road and over the River Burn bridge towards Grewelthorpe for approximately one mile. Hackfall car park is on your left.

Hackfall Wood, north yorkshire, england

Access: n Due to the steep terrain in places wheelchair access is not possible. Good hiking boots are also recommended.

Far from mere folly A

t first glance, you could be forgiven for thinking Hackfall Wood is a natural wilderness, which has lain unspoiled for hundreds of years. In fact it is very much a landscape moulded by man and an excellent example of the 18th-century landscaper’s art. A wooded muse to artists such as Turner and Wordsworth, Hackfall sits at the Masham end of the village of Grewelthorpe in North Yorkshire. The forest as it can be seen today was in large part a result of design undertaken by the Aislabies. John Aislabie bought Hackfall Wood for £906 in 1731 and his son William later built follies, many of which can still be seen. He also created grottoes, surprise views, waterfalls and a fountain. An enjoyable four and a half-mile walk will allow you to discover both father and son’s work, taking in present today have therefore regenerated naturally. all the main features of the woodland garden. Of Sycamore dominates some areas while ash, particular note is the mock ruin of wych elm, and silver birch are also Mowbray Castle, designed to be a peppered throughout the wood. pleasing eye catcher perhaps inspired Popular with locals and tourists for by The Kings’ Tower at nearby generations, a stirring description by Knaresborough Castle. the Reverend Warner in 1802 There is a mosaic of plant encapsulates the enduring appeal of communities in Hackfall, despite hackfall wood Hackfall: ‘This enchanted region; a much of the wood being clear place of which it may be said, that felled in the 1930s. The owner at Art has, gone hand in hand with the time, a timber merchant, Nature, to unfold her beauties and removed much of the valuable hard heighten her attractions.’ wood and many of the trees that are

42 Tree News Autumn/Winter 2013







‘Life for a Life’ is a charity that offers you the chance to celebrate and commemorate your loved ones by planting memorial trees and installing memorial benches in one of fifty woodland locations across the United Kingdom.

Beacon Fell, Goosnargh, Preston

Planting a new tree, or installing a bench with a plaque helps people to come to terms with their loss and creates a special place for friends and family to visit to remember and reflect. Alternatively, a tree can be planted to celebrate a new life, a wedding, anniversary or any other major event. After your tree planting, you will be issued with a lovely certificate of plantation and an inscription will be recorded in a Book of Remembrance by our calligrapher.

Queen Mothers Meadow, Strinesdale, Oldham

‘Life for a Life’ is proud to be a Not For Profit, Non-Denominational, Non-Political, Registered Charity, that makes donations to hospices, hospitals and health related charities throughout the UK. For further information and a free fully comprehensive information pack please contact us on 0161 624 2299

Love Someone, Miss Someone, Help Someone, Plant a Tree - It’s For Life

Sutton Bingham, Yeovil, Somerset

Woodland management – increasing biodiversity 23rd October

Generating income from coppice woodland 21st November

Applying for felling licenses and forming management plans 30th September

GPS and Digital Mapping for Foresters and Woodland Owners 18th October

Tree inspection for the Woodland Owner 1st October

Timber Marketing – method of sale identification and markets 29th November

Training opportunities. New skills in food, farming and forestry. Funding available subject to eligibility. Plumpton College training delivered across East Sussex at Flimwell, Netherfield, Stamner Park and Plumpton. A full range of short courses in forestry, livestock management, butchery and dairy processing. Accredited courses in livestock transport, food hygiene and Emergency First Aid. Wood Fuel conference—29th October 2013 Call us to find out more on 01580 879547 or email


Plumpton College


Seeking solace Columnist Rob Penn recounts a winter in solitude, taking comfort from the company of trees


took over the management of Strawberry Cottage Wood in the Black Mountains, South Wales to make a TV documentary series for the BBC called Tales from the Wild Wood, about the state of woodlands in Britain. It was a job, albeit one I knew I’d savour. I had no idea at the outset though that I was heading off on a vertiginous journey into the oldest extant relationship we have with the landscape. My work in Strawberry Cottage Wood was physically demanding, but I felt from the start I was learning through the pores of my skin. As I cleared part of the understorey in the ancient woodland, the taller trees – the single-stemmed, timber trees or ‘maidens’ – began to emerge. The skeletal character of each individual tree was revealed: the muscularity of the large, stag-headed oaks; the silver, staff-like birch with a mop of purple twigs; the austere, grey aspen. Most conspicuous of all in the dormant wood, when the coppicing was complete, were the beautiful ash, known as Venus of the Woods. Cast in tender, blue light and naked of leaf, the ash trees stood tall, elegant, elephant-grey barked and sparsely branched, with twigs that curl upwards at their ends to form the distinctive witches’ claws. When the work of winter was done, and Strawberry Cottage Wood was peopled with statuesque ash, I spent a lot of time sitting among the trees waiting for the familiar stirrings of spring. I enjoyed the solitude, though one is never really alone in a wood: as the title of William Barnes’ poem has it, ‘Trees Be Company’. I enjoyed the feeling one is sometimes overcome by in a gathering together of trees – a hair-raising, numinous sense that is as precious as it is common. I was sentient to something else at this time, though, an experience that lasted beyond my desire for solitude, something more urgent than the guardian spirit. I could not put my finger on it, but whenever I sat still, the sensation was there, pressing

“The meditative work of stacking timber and burning brash had whittled away my sense of loss”

me. Over time, it became deeply grooved into my experience like the longitudinal ruptures in the bark of the oldest ash trees. My father had died suddenly at the beginning of that winter. For a while after his funeral I hated being inside. Working in the wood gave me the space and time to grieve. Dad always preferred books to billhooks but I did wonder if I was encountering his spirit. When spring arrived, though, I knew the meditative work of stacking timber and burning brash had whittled away my sense of loss. Meanwhile, this sensation that I couldn’t account for had grown in strength. When I finally understood this feeling that had bewitched and beguiled me for weeks, I was overcome. This feeling was the ethereal gathering together of the recollections of all the people who have ever known Strawberry Cottage Wood, a force representing the continuity in the intense and mutually beneficial relationship between people and trees over aeons. This force was a siren song connecting me to the human matrix. It was a hymn to the deepest meaning of existence. n Robert Penn is writing Touch Wood: the story of the Ash Tree to be published by Penguin in 2014. Follow Rob on Twitter at @RobPennWildwood Autumn/Winter 2013 Tree News 45

last word / felix dennis

Winter Sunset All day the snow had lain between the trees, The barren, hump-backed hills bereft of life, A sky bruised black, the sleet flung slant to freeze The bones of man or beast. And then – a knife!

Illustration by Bill Sanderson

A white-gold knife to blind the sullen gaze Of Old Man Winter louring in the West; Three crimson wounds to set the clouds ablaze, And guide my weary feet to home and rest.

‘Winter Sunset’ is taken from Tales From The Woods by Felix Dennis (Ebury Press 2010) Felix Dennis’ latest book of poems, Love of a Kind, is out now (£12.99, Ebury Press). We have five to give away. Just send an email to with ‘Love of a Kind’ in the subject line. 46 Tree News Autumn/Winter 2013

Field and Container grown semi-mature and specimen stock Trees, shrubs and instant hedging

Deepdale Trees Limited * Tithe Farm * Hatley Road * Potton * Sandy * Beds SG19 2DX T: 01767 262636 F: 01767 262288

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