I will kickstart this series by describing an impressive oak I clocked recently while walking a block of permanent pasture with a prospective tenant. It looms over the landscape, stood on a north-facing slope with only an expired fence line breaking up its setting. Perhaps its isolated appearance accentuates the gnarled shapes and impressive stature. With a girth of over 5m at head height, and a trunk that has hollowed naturally with age, this tree may be up to 350 years old. An impressive innings, yet if undamaged by poaching and soil compaction, it may double its age before finally perishing

The extensive dead wood in its crown, rotting heartwood and lichen-covered bark are able to support a diversity of specialist wildlife whose populations rely on a population of nearby ancient and veteran trees in the landscape. This particular tree has also proved an unlikely nursery for a hawthorn sapling, which must have been protected from browsing during its first few years of establishment within the oak’s hollowing trunk. Its growth towards the light of an opening in its adoptive parent’s roots has given it a bizarre shape, with a trunk angled below the horizontal. A tree growing from inside another is sometimes referred to as a ‘cuckoo tree’.

The oak’s exposed situation, where there are few trees, and the remaining nearby hedges have little substance, mean it is heavily used by livestock for shelter. The poached ground at the base of the hawthorn indicates where the best shelter is, which is presumably most favoured in spring since the hawthorn comes into leaf at least a month before the oak.

Unfortunately, poaching, compaction and over-dunging will reduce the lifespan of the oak significantly. However, without shelter, the energy requirements of livestock can rocket, causing issues such as compromised immunity, lower finishing weights and reduced milk yields, to name a few. The solution here is to prevent livestock from accessing the area under the tree canopy by fencing or ‘dead hedges’, while simultaneously providing other shelter in the form of in-field trees, hedges or woodland blocks. The damaging effect of poaching and dunging will be increasingly diluted if greater numbers of trees are established. This guide from the national Ancient Tree Forum and Woodland Trust will give you some more information http://www.ancienttreeforum.co.uk/resources/ancient-tree-guides/trees-and-farming/


Do you have any impressive old trees on your farm?

To help spread awareness of, and advice for the protection of ancient trees, we are presenting this series in the FWAG SouthWest e-news to highlight a different farmland tree each month. We therefore invite you to send photos of a tree and a short description if possible. You could describe the tree, giving an approximate girth measurement (circumference at 1.5m height). Describe how you use the land around it and whether you consider the tree to be important to your family. Please send a photo and even a historical photo if you have one. We will select one tree each month to feature in an article, and with your permission, any special trees can be recorded on the Ancient Tree Inventory. Our articles will also include some recommendations for protecting trees in similar situations. These will also be added to a blog on the FWAG SouthWest website. From this collection, a winning tree will be chosen at the end of the year, based on appearance, age, cultural significance and the protection it has received.

Send us your trees! Send photos and a few words to Lawrie at [email protected]

Member PLUS readers might consider using their next annual visit to complete a survey of trees. We can map trees of particular significance, estimate their age and provide recommendations of management that will enhance their longevity. We will work with the Ancient Tree Forum to ensure we are providing the most beneficial advice.