Swannacott Manor Meats is a 200-acre pasture farm set in rolling hills just outside Week St Mary in North Cornwall. The Sobey family have been farming the area for over 6 generations and have been successfully selling meat straight from the farm for many years.

While the original Swannacott manor was demolished,  the working farm has remained.  In the western corner of a field close to the lane and footpath, sit two sessile oaks of dramatic shape and size. These are not tall trees rather they are wide spreading with huge twisting limbs reaching out to touch the ground. They created a unique miniature wood and shelter beneath their canopies.

These trees have certainly been shaped by the significant winds in this part of the county close to the NE coast, but they could also been shaped by people as they are typical of pollards with the main branches sprouting out from the same level of around 2m high. It is clear they have not been continually pollarded throughout their lives as they don’t display the knobbly “bolling” at that height (which would come from continuous pollarding) and their main branches are clearly of significant thickness and age.

What is interesting is that they are not a pair of similar age. One tree is significantly older and could have stood alone for several centuries or alongside other woodpasture oaks that have long since gone.   The oldest tree is completely hollow, open to the sky and split completely down one side of the trunk.  It has a girth measurement of around 5.4m  measured at 1.5m above the ground.  An estimate based on growth rates of similar oaks, in similar growing conditions and of similar form could put the age at between 400 and 500 years. By anyone’s standard an “ancient” of unique character. The younger tree, of around 3m girth, is still a fabulous veteran just beginning to hollow girth some deadwood and fantastic lichens.

It is the biodiversity that is of special interest, the  hollowing trunk is a unique habitat for fungi and invertebrates, the craggy branches and trunks are covered in lichens, mosses, ferns and navelwort. Deadwood left on the ground is home to many more species and mycorrhizal fungi live alongside the extensive roots. The cracks and hollows and twisting branches give shelter to birds and mammals while goats and children shelter and play under the twisting canopy.

Wide growing trees like, these in a traditional wood pasture, have the best chance to reach their optimum age and their maximum habitat value. The Oak is known as the species that provides habitats for the greatest number of species in our countryside, but all native and naturalised species are valuable when they reach a great age. If your farm has anything close to these great trees, please get in touch. We can provide free advice on managing them in the best possible way within your working farm.

Here is a link to the Ancient Tree Forum guide “Trees and Farming”. This provides great advice on management techniques and the value of special treed environments on farms, but the latest guidance on grants can be obtained directly from FWAG.

Article written by Tim Kellett, Cornwall Ancient Tree Forum

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