Thursday, 19 November 2020

Get into the woods! No matter what you expect to find there – go and see what you can find*

 *from Sequoia Sonnets, 1919

I am no arboriculturalist, nor a botanist, not really a nemophile (visits to woods are a special occasion when one lives on the eastern Sussex Downs), but I might be a dendrophile. I have for many years appreciated trees and made pilgrimages to visit special individuals. I have been known to involuntarily say "Hello!" to certain astonishing individuals. It sometimes feels rude not to when invading their space. During the past couple of years I have started measuring their girth, observing their characteristics, noting ancient features, lichen and moss communities and cuckoo tree growth, along with all the usual stuff like what they are, where, when. Why? I'm a dendrophile! But also because there are lots of special trees out there that are not really taken much notice of. A special tree deserves to be recorded, even if this risks stealing something of its mystique, as John Fowles might accuse one of in his The Tree diatribe (a memoir that is worth reading if only for his description of an encounter with Wistman's Wood on Dartmoor: it's "floor like a tilted emerald sea...".

Trees deserve to be recorded because they tend to be there - and then not. It's the not being there which often kindles the strongest emotions, and by that stage it's too late. So, yes, recording a tree sort of trespasses upon its mystique, but perhaps only for the recorder and administrator, the botanist and arboriculturalist, whom arguably experience this as an occupational hazard anyway. By recognising its ancient features or opening a door for it into the Ancient Tree Inventory (ATI), it might be protected for lots of  other people to encounter who might otherwise not have enjoyed the opportunity. I wrote might be protected because there are plenty of examples where special trees, whether Notable, Veteran or Ancient, trees with TPOs, trees with a community awareness or even a community of defenders are ripped from us, usually by developers who see an obstacle and not a landscape feature. Two recent examples are the Penllergaer Giant Redwood in Swansea and the Cubbington Pear in Warwickshire (see herehere, here and here). That final news story saddens me such a lot because it demonstrates how people look at a tree and see only the above-ground bit and fail to recognise the mycorrhizal networks, the community of dependent species of bacteria, fungi, lichens, mosses, vascular plants, invertebrates, birds, mammals and everything else that an established tree harbours. Scions and sports need to establish themselves before they even approach the value in life that the Cubbington Pear supported. Grrr. But at least a measured, verified tree is known.

The ATI lists only two special trees in Newhaven and one of these is a 'lost' tree: a magnificent Huntingdon Elm Ulmus x hollandica, felled from its place at Grays School on Western Road, apparently, due to Dutch Elm Disease shortly before the vacant school was redeveloped into the modern houses which now stand there. I mourned the loss of this tree, which was mature when I attended Grays School between 1975-78. The other is an unspecified elm growing on private land in the 'old town' area, near Church Hill. I felt that two trees, even in a relatively tree-less area of the South Downs, was not representative enough of what is an historic town with historic places. Surely there must be more? This question has inspired me to establish whether there are more out there. 

Here are some of the special trees I have since found around Newhaven and the surrounding district, some of which I hope will be accepted into the ATI...

Beeches Fagus sylvatica, Duke's Walk, Bishopstone

A row of six healthy, mature trees interspersed with diseased Wych Elm Ulmus glabra, possibly planted c.mid-18th C by the Duke of Newcastle (or descendants of the originals). Not yet measured (I need a helper or two).

Walnuts Juglans regia, grounds of the former Downs Hospital, Church Hill, Newhaven.

From the left in the photo below:

Tree 1: girth 2.97m @ 0.94m below fork in bole; no obvious decay noted and only a few lichens. A strong, healthy, mature tree.

Tree 2: girth 2.95m @ 0.40m below 3-way split in bole; decay, hollowing, seepages, but few lichens.

Tree 3: girth 1.86m @ 0.62m below a rot-hole; apparently dead, standing, extensive decay, hollow, few lichens.

Tree 4: girth 2.43m @ 0.70m below a swelling and fork in bole; rot-hole; 50% decay, hollow, few lichens

Wild Cherry Prunus arvium, Meeching Down, Newhaven.

Fallen (suggest in Oct 1987), alive. Diameter approx 0.50m, approx 1.5m above root just beyond a wound (est. girth 1.55m).


English Elms Ulmus procera, Neills Close, Newhaven.

Four mature elms in apparent good health. A fifth was felled, presumably due to DED, some years ago.

Tree 1 (top photo): girth: 1.74m @ 1.50m. Maiden. Lichens.

Tree 2 (bottom photo, centre): girth: 1.78m @ 1.50m. Maiden. Lichens.

Tree 3 (bottom photo, left): girth: 2.20m @ 0.90m below low branches. Maiden. Lichens.

Tree 4 (bottom photo, right): girth: 1.70m @ 1.50m. Maiden. Lichens.

Pedunculate (English) Oak Quercus robur 

Growing on private land at Church Hill, Newhaven. An unusual, uncommonly mature oak growing in the town, possibly planted around the time the house was built (c.1810 or earlier).

Girth 2.48m @ 1.50m high. Maiden. Growing in a clay/sand outcrop.

Crack Willow Salix fragilis, wet meadows, Bishopstone (nr. former site of Bishopstone Place).

Girth 3.54m @ 1.50m, below a burr on the trunk. Standing, alive, significant decay, deadwood on ground, ground level suggestion of collapsed former bole extent. Wasp-infested!

Elders Sambucus nigra, Ouse Estuary Nature Reserve. 

Two mature trees along southern boundary path. 

Tree 1: girth = 1.30m measured at 0.3m height (beneath a low fork in the trunk).

Tree 2: girth = 1.11m, measured at 1.10m trunk height (single trunk with epicormic growth from ground);

Hawthorn Crataegus monogyna, Bollens Bush

A very large specimen with large, strong boughs. Top of wood by steps leading to open heathland.

Girth = 3.06m @ 66cm high, beneath fork in bole.

Many of these trees have been entered onto the Ancient Tree Inventory and await verification. The search around Newhaven continues.

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