• 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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  • A fabulous ash pollard

    For those regular visitors - apologies for a month's absence - a combination of work and latterly two weeks of an absolutely horrendous cold (even took to my bed for a day - unheard of!).

    Today dawned misty and extremely frosty - about -5C first thing, but grabbed some warm outdoor clobber and set off for one of my favourite walks around the perimeter of Bringsty Common. Can't count how many times I must have done this walk over twenty five years, so something of a surprise to discover a huge old ash pollard I've never clocked before. Admittedly it was a little way off the footpath and quite possibly hidden by undergrowth and intervening foliage at any other time than winter, but what a fabulous old tree it is. Certainly a veteran & might even be classed as ancient - who can say? Okay, its girth at the narrowest point may not be massive, but the extent and character of all the burring certainly makes it look extremely old. It hasn't been pollarded for a many a year which gives some concern as to its immedaite future - hopefully it won't split itself apart. No idea who owns it, but it certainly looks like a candidate for at least a crown reduction as it would be very sad to lose it.

    Big year coming up for me with a mega-important tree book project in hand. Exciting times - more later.

    Happy New Year to all.

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  • The Capon Tree - latest archive acquisition

    Just arrived in the archive - this wonderful 1890s lantern slide of The Capon Tree - a celebrated ancient oak near the town of Jedburgh in the Scottish Borders. Taken by the Aberdeen photography company set up by George Washington Wilson, it's a beautifully detailed image of this great old tree & I love the human element to give it scale. Look closely and you can see it must have been quite a long exposure as the man has clearly moved his head. The tree is still in pretty good shape today, although partially collapsed and propped and still one of the main focal points for the annual Jethart Callant's Festival in July. To find out more have a look in my book "The British Oak".

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Archie Miles photography

Archie's Blog

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