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WILDLIFE DIARY

‚‚ A leaf from the wild service tree

Wild service For Ed Andrews, news of a rare tree in a wood near Broseley led to a magical encounter. This story starts with an email from a colleague of mine. In the email was a map centred on Benthall, just outside Broseley. I can see that a lane called The Avenue leads from the main road to Benthall Hall. Beyond the hall, rolling fields drop towards the vast wooded landscape of Benthall Edge. Where the fields end and the woodland begins, my colleague has drawn a red circle on the map. This marks the location of some very special trees. A few days after studying the map, I park my car and walk along The Avenue. To my left lies marshy pasture haunted by snipe. To my right, a line of huge tin men march across the frost-kissed fields. There is a gentle fizzing sound emanating from the high-voltage power lines they carry.

Wild service trees are by no means the largest trees in these woodlands, but they are probably the rarest...

Stately homes such as Benthall Hall are often approached by an avenue. Historically, the tree-lined route would have helped to create an enhanced sense of arrival. This morning, the stonework of Benthall Hall is illuminated by the low winter sunshine.

I pass through a narrow cutting into an old quarry. The rocky faces and harts tongue fern give the impression of a hanging garden. Whether it is the dumping of toxic waste, the stashing of dead bodies or the discovery of a huge illegal drugs factory, disused quarries often have grisly stories to tell. This one too bears the scars of abandonment with car tyres and old fence panels lying on the ground.

Industrial past

A rare find

Past the hall, the lane becomes a track before emerging at the top of Benthall Edge. My eyes are drawn past the misty cooling towers in the Ironbridge Gorge towards the slopes of the Wrekin. In the early days of the Industrial Revolution, this deep scar in the land must have seemed like hell itself with the glow of furnaces and flames dancing up into the sky. It was the Lord of Benthall who first granted permission for limestone quarrying in these woods in the 13th century. The limestone was used to remove the impurities from the iron stone during the smelting process.

I follow the path along the crest of the gorge. Eventually I arrive at the location marked with the red circle. It is a wooded area on the edge of another old quarry. The trees that I am seeking are a species that I have never seen before so I begin examining each tree for a sign of something unusual. After a few minutes, I spot a number of trees with very textured bark. I look more closely and see three brown leaves that have escaped the winter winds and are still clinging on a branch. They look similar to a maple leaf, but are not as distinctly lobed. I have found the wild service trees.

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Profile for What's What Magazine

Mar/Apr issue of What's What!  

Bursting with springtime ideas and events in Bridgnorth, Broseley, Much Wenlock and Ironbridge.

Mar/Apr issue of What's What!  

Bursting with springtime ideas and events in Bridgnorth, Broseley, Much Wenlock and Ironbridge.

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