In search of ancient trees
The Woodland Trust’s ongoing Ancient Tree Hunt is gathering steam, with the recent announcement of the UK’s largest cherry tree and a new initiative to find and protect the oldest trees in London. To date, more than 63,000 ancient, veteran and notable trees have been recorded onto the Ancient Tree Hunt interactive website, as part of an overall aim of finding 100,000 of the UK’s oldest trees by 2011.
Speaking at the launch of the London project, Mayor Boris Johnson pledged his support for the new focus on the city’s ancient trees, stating: “Trees are part of the lifeblood of our city, giving house-room to a huge variety of wildlife, as well as beautifying our parks and streets. I am happy to lend my support to this celebration of London’s ancient green giants recognising the vital role they play. Let’s hope too that in 300 years time Londoners will be marking the tercentenary of some of the 10,000 street trees we are planting by March 2012.”
Throughout May and June the Ancient Tree Hunt website will be showcasing the best examples of ancient trees in each London borough, including oaks and yew trees over 1,000 years old, and is encouraging people not only to visit them but to hunt for even larger examples that have yet to be registered. Representatives from the Greater London Authority, Greenspace Information for Greater London, Forestry Commission, Tree Council and Trees for Cities (the new partner organisations in the Woodland Trust’s Ancient Tree Hunt project in the capital) gathered in Barnes next to one of the city’s most spectacular examples to launch the scheme. Measuring a massive 8.23 metres around the trunk, Barney, as the tree is affectionately known, is the biggest and possibly the oldest London Plane tree in the country, having been planted at Barn Elms in south west London around 1685.
“It couldn’t be more appropriate to launch this urban project under such an iconic species,” said Edward Parker, Ancient Tree Hunt project manager at the Woodland Trust. “The London Plane has proved to be perfectly at home in city streets and squares owing to its pollution resistance and longevity. For a major city, London is astonishingly rich in old trees. So far we know of more than 500 large trees which have a girth of five metres or more – an important indicator of old age – but we are sure there are many more hidden gems like Barney waiting to be discovered by the public.”
Meanwhile, the Ancient Tree Hunt’s Cherry Tree Bloomsday Proiect recently found what’s believed to be the largest wild cherry tree in the whole country. Standing quietly in a field in rural Cumbria, it measures a massive 5.3m (18ft) around its trunk and located on the edge of the village of Maulds Meaburn.
Neil Cruikshank, who lives in a house overlooking the tree, explains that “unusually for a wild cherry, it produces the most deliciously flavoured cherries. In fact in July the tree bends to the great weight of fruit on the branches and we can usually gather enough to make 8 pounds of cherry jam without even having to use a ladder.”
Images: the UK’s largest wild cherry tree? (top) © Edward Parker and ‘Barney’ the London Plane tree © Phil Lockwood