• Mistletoe Oak

    In my recent book, The British Oak, I came to the conclusion that there were no longer any native oaks to be found in Britain bearing mistletoe. A conclusion, I now discover, to be incorrect. None of the recent books on trees or my rich and varied array of tree expert contacts could shed any light on oaks with mistletoe. There were many historical references to this phenomenon; photographs of some of the Victorian finds showing top-hatted gents proudly standing beneath them, but nobody seemed to have relocated any of these trees in recent times. Unbeknown to me one J.D. Box had written a paper on the subject in 1997, and after some highly exhaustive research had located eleven oak trees still bearing mistletoe, seven of which were English oaks.

    Fellow tree buff David Griffith was recently in touch with me and kindly informed me that he had managed to locate one of the Herefordshire trees. Since I was passing nearby yesterday I walked down to see it. Not the most impressive oak I ever saw, but still a strange and beautiful sight to see, with one large clump of mistletoe at the top of the tree and two smaller, barely visible ones lower down. Estimated age of the tree is about 180-200 years old.

    I'm always excited to see something completely new and different and when one realises that there are only six other English oaks in the whole of Britain like this then it becomes even more remarkable.

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  • A massive cedar

    Heading up through Weobley last week & I remembered an impressive Cedar of Lebanon that I hadn't visited for about ten years & wondered how the intervening years might have treated it. Cedars are notoriously brittle in old age and since we've had several pretty ferocious storms in recent times I was aware that all may not have gone well. In fact I remembered that the last time I had seen the tree there were a couple of substantial boughs lying beneath it, the result of past gales.

    The site is the surrounding gardens and parkland of a large house called Garnstone Castle, which clearly fell on hard times in the mid 20th century and was eventually pulled down in the late 1950s. Of the house just a few piles of rubble and some delapidated outbuildings remain - a sorry scene. However a few of the surrounding trees have managed to survive, most of which are conifers, but the best of the bunch is this mighty Cedar of Lebanon. The downed boughs of ten years ago have been removed, but you can still see the gaps their loss created in the crown of the tree. No matter, this is still a very handsome specimen and looking very healthy. I measured the bole and found it to be a little over 28 feet or 8.5 metres in girth which, if we go by the Ancient Tree Hunt's stats, puts it in the top twenty largest Cedars of Lebanon in the country. Age? Who can say? But I wouldn't be at all surprised if it was 250-300 years old.

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  • Black pop down

    Over the last year there has been much activity around Herefordshire checking out the numbers of native black poplars. A mid 90s survey and a follow-up in 2002 logged a total of 168 individuals, but since then there appears to have been a decline in numbers. Initially, in 2016, 136 of the original list were located - the rest having disappeared either through natural causes such as storm damage or simply falling apart due to neglect and old age (particularly abandoned pollards) or through felling. During 2016 a concerted effort was made to try and discover new trees that had not been previously recorded, and when I last heard some 10 or 12 new discoveries had come to light. This is still a very slender population for the whole county.

    This mature specimen - seemingly a maiden tree, but possibly an outgrown pollard, stood on the edge of a strip of woodland alongside water meadows, near the River Lugg, at Bodenham. You can see from the photos that it was actually perched above a small drainage ditch - an ideal location for black pops. I photographed the tree in November last year and was blithely unaware of the fragile state of its great bole. At some point in February the whole tree crashed to the ground (I noticed it about two weeks back, but didn't have a camera with me). I went back yesterday and made a few pictures of the sorry scene. I have to wonder whether it was the dense sheath of ivy around the trunk that might have been helping to hold it erect for some time. As you can see from the rotted stump its days have clearly been numbered for quite some time.

    Thank goodness it wasn't a windy day back in November. I think Molly appreciated that point too.

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  • Ancient tree gems on Yatton Hill

    For years and years I have been walking the countryside around Croft Castle and it never ceases to amaze me how I keep finding fascinating new trees to photograph. To the north-west lies the village of Yatton and the slopes of Yatton Hill have a few tree treasures - mainly deriving from long abandoned coppice stools and often in the raggedy remains of old hedgerows.

    Huge hazels and hollies are abundant along with several gnarled old field maples. How old? Your guess is as good as mine. The statuesque multi-stemmed sycamore with a girth of about 20' at 2' above ground must rate as one of, if not the biggest in Herefordshire. I wonder when it was last coppiced. I know sycamore grows quite fast, but I still think it must be 80-100 years ago.

    Many thanks to artist, Bronte Woodruff who walked up the hill with me and showed me these wonderful trees.

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  • A white mantle on Black Hill

    We had a very thin dusting of snow here a couple of days back & on past experience of the last three years that might be all we can truly call winter. Looking west to the Black Mountains yesterday morning I could see the ridge with its distinctive step of Hay Bluff at the northern end sparkling bright white in the morning sun. With the promise of a week or two of grey, gloom and rain to come I was easily tempted & by 10 I was gingerly weaving down the icy narrow lanes above Craswall looking for that classic view of Cat's Back Ridge and Black Hill. Of course Black Hill will be forever remembered from that remarkable book by Bruce Chatwin. And, if you've ever read the book, this will be a familiar landscape, little altered over the last couple of hundred years.

    I could see that grim weather was rumbling in so was grateful to get the sunlight I craved. The bitter wind whipped the leading edge of the storm over the nose of Black Hill with puddles of sunlight scudding down the flanks of the hill, picking out every little contour. Hard to drag myself away, but I had a tree to check out before the light went.

    Some twenty years ago I photographed a characterful old ash pollard on a track below Cat's Back Ridge and I was keen to see how it had fared over that time. As you can see it's still in fine fettle. Nobody has cut it back since I first found it, so it makes me wonder what the future holds for this fine old tree. It is certainly very exposed up here on the hills so I hope it doesn't get wrenched apart. Moreover, let's hope ash dieback doesn't find it.

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