In Pictures: storm damage to trees at National Trust places

The winter storms have led to some dramatic losses of trees at National Trust places. Here is a selection of pictures showing how they have affected our estates and countryside. Our teams on the ground have been working hard to keep access open, removing some of the timber for use at the properties and creating new homes for nature in the fallen trees.

The ranger team working at Lyme Park in Cheshire to clear a footpath after a fallen tree had blocked it

The ranger team working at Lyme Park in Cheshire to clear a footpath after a fallen tree had blocked it

Trees lost on the southern end of Brownsea Island as a result of the south-easterly winds

Trees lost on the southern end of Brownsea Island as a result of the south-easterly winds

A split Oak tree at Charlecote Park in Warwickshire

A split Oak tree at Charlecote Park in Warwickshire

An old Lime tree at Trelissick in south Cornwall blown over by the storms.  The timber will be used for carvings and to create a new habitat for insects and fungi.

An old Lime tree at Trelissick in south Cornwall blown over by the storms. The timber will be used for carvings and to create a new habitat for insects and fungi.

A split tree at Tatton Park which has lost thirty trees this winter.  The team cleared many of them within 24 hours.

A split tree at Tatton Park which has lost thirty trees this winter. The team cleared many of them within 24 hours.

A 500 year old oak tree at Kedleston in Derbyshire which will become an ideal home for wildlife

A 500 year old oak tree at Kedleston in Derbyshire which will become an ideal home for wildlife

For more information about how the winter storms and extreme weather have impacted upon National Trust places you can follow the hashtags #NTnature and #NTcoast on twitter

Weekly Witter: Out of the strong came forth sweetness

Spring is a time of joy for all naturalists, leaf burst and blossom delighting all of us, not least the entomologist who has suffered a long and bleak winter with hardly a buzz or a flutter of wings. The search for the rare and spectacular is most definitely on and it’s not in praise of leaf or flower that I devote this blog. I’m celebrating a sweet and intoxicating liquor, a dark brown liquid that oozes, bubbles and even gurgles from trees. Sap-runs or flux as they are sometimes known, prove irresistible to insects and insect hunters alike.

There are many reasons why sap might spring from trees, bacterial disease, physical damage or the attentions of wood boring insects such as the chunky larvae of the goat moth which might spend five years developing on the frugal diet of solid wood. Whatever causes the sap to flow from the tree there are rich pickings for insects. Flies, beetles and wasps are all attracted to the sugary secretions. While some of the species such as red admirals and wasps are fairly ordinary, there’s a chance of finding more rare species per square inch than any other habitat I know.

The dark brown streaks on this oak trunk are a tell-tale sign of a productive sap-run.

The dark brown streaks on this oak trunk are a tell-tale sign of a productive sap-run.

The tree in the photograph was in a field at Maidenhead and Cookham Commons and is clearly in decline although the sap runs are a symptom rather than the cause. One of the first things I check for on such trees are the exit holes of the twin-spot wood-borer, a formerly rare beetle that has become much more common as a result of acute oak decline. These beetles, sometimes implicated in the spread of disease leave holes that are distinctive for being flattened on one side, much like a D. There was no sign at all of where this handsome beetle had been, indeed despite seeing hundreds of holes on scores of trees I’d never seen this species in over ten years of trying. Other species though were there in abundance.

Wasps were frequent, along with their bigger cousins the hornet. These, despite their fearsome reputation are luckily kind-tempered; praiseworthy when poring over the trunk with your nose an inch away from where they feed. Sap-beetles, fungus beetles and hoverflies all flocked to the sweet sap. The rare brown tree-ant, a real southern speciality was busy, scurrying across the trunk, drinking sap and seemingly attending hoverfly larvae that were immersed in the syrupy stream. Several hoverflies are known to breed exclusively in sap runs, some of these are tiny and rather dowdy but the inflated hoverfly is a much more robust beast. This inch long fly is a dapper black and orange affair and always a pleasure to see.

The inflated hoverfly, a distinctive sap-run specialist.

The inflated hoverfly, a distinctive sap-run specialist.

Red admiral butterflies had settled onto the trunk to feed occasionally flashing their wings to startle other insects attempting to muscle in. The smell of the sap was even tempting enough to lure a purple emperor away from its sylvan kingdom. After a good twenty minutes of inspecting the insect life on this once mighty tree I thought that the emperor would be the highlight. Just as I turned to walk away, another insect alighted at the foot of the tree, the wings creating an audible buzz as it did so. Its slim shape and spangled appearance gave it away as one of my most sought after species. Agrilus pannonicus, the oak jewel beetle, the twin-spot wood-borer (so good they named it thrice), a Holy Grail that serendipity (and sap) had seen fit to allow me to meet.

oak j Oak Jewel Beetle

Oak Jewel Beetle

  • Peter Brash is a wildlife and countryside advisor for the National Trust. He specialises in animal ecology; specifically birds, insects and bats. As well as the surveying of habitats, wildlife interpretation and engagement.
  • The Weekly Witter is a new regular Monday mouthpiece for our many specialists to talk about what’s on their minds at the moment.

Weekly Witter: Restoring our Woodland

Croft Castle – Wood Pasture Restoration

Wood pasture is a medieval form of agricultural/horticultural land management, a very early form of permaculture, where two or more crops can be raised on the same piece of land. Traditionally, widely spaced trees were grown in meadows grazed by cattle and/or deer. This provided meat for the table and a wide variety of materials from the trees, depending on species and location. The trees were protected from the grazing animals until they were big enough and their branches were well above animal browsing height. These trees were then typically cut at a height of approximately eight feet every 3 to 25 years depending on the desired material. The trees provided a great variety of materials: firewood, tool handles, leaf fodder, small diameter timber, fencing material and bends for the ribs of ships.

Longhorn cattle grazing wood pasture. Muelaner

Longhorn cattle grazing wood pasture. Muelaner

The practice of pollarding was enshrined in law dating as far back as the Magna Carta. Common people were granted the right of Estover, which allowed them to take material from trees on common land, often in Royal Hunting Forests, but expressly forbade them from cutting down trees. This gave pollard trees great significance for commoners.

New pollard. Muelaner

New pollard. Muelaner

The practice of pollarding considerably extends the natural life of many tree species. For instance a beech tree would normally live about 300 years by which time it would have blown over in a gale or from root decay, collapsed due to fungal trunk decay or succumbed to one of several pathogens. A beech tree which has been pollarded for the majority of its life however, can live for more than 600 years, oaks for more than a thousand years. The old pollards develop very fat squat trunks with small crowns.

These trees with their small crowns have a reduced risk of blowing over or getting torn apart in severe winds, they are also less susceptible to drought with their reduced volume of canopy to support.

Ancient oak pollard. Muelaner

Ancient oak pollard. Muelaner

These ancient trees are extremely important culturally, for their great natural beauty and for the exceptionally abundant wildlife living on and within them. They support very rare lichens living on their craggy bark, rare fungi decaying the heart wood and very specialised dead wood invertebrates digesting this decaying wood.

Pollarding died out in Britain in the 19th century and many of the old wood pastures succumbed to secondary woodland. One such site is a lapsed wood pasture at Croft Castle, 47.0 hectares of which was let on a very long lease to the Forestry Commission prior to the Trust acquiring the property. The Trust and the FC are now in consultation regarding the restoration of this nationally important site. The Trust’s 5.0 hectare in-hand portion of this wood pasture has already undergone restoration with lots of the naturally seeded trees having been removed and grazing being re-introduced later this year. Without this kind of intervention the ancient old trees would be killed by the more vigorous young conifers growing above them and casting them into perpetual shade.

Wood Pasture restoration. Muelaner

Wood Pasture restoration. Muelaner

Sadly, when the Forestry Commission first took over the lease of the land in the 1950s, the significance of ancient trees was not fully understood or appreciated. This meant that many of these wonderful old trees were purposefully killed by ring barking around their trunks with an axe, luckily some of these trees miraculously survived this destructive treatment. The site is littered with dead hulks with axe marks demonstrating how they died. I would like to think that we live in a more enlightened time and that the remaining pollards and their future offspring will be safe at Croft and other Trust properties.

  • Brian Muelaner – Ancient Tree Adviser for the National Trust. I advise on how best to manage these special trees to preserve their natural lives. I am often among trees many hundreds of years old, some are a thousand years or more and still quite healthy. I am coordinating a national survey of all ancient and notable trees on Trust land. To date we have recorded a remarkable 25,000 trees and still have many more properties to survey. I am also compiling an inventory of the hundreds of Trust avenues.

  • The Weekly Witter is a regular Monday mouthpiece for our many specialists to talk about what’s on their minds at the moment.

National Trust reaction to Government statement on Forestry Panel Report

Simon Pryor, Natural Environment Director, at the National Trust, said

“We are pleased that the Government has agreed with the Panel and will be securing the Forestry Commission‘s woodlands in England for future generations to enjoy. The way in which people rallied to defend these woodlands was fantastic and it’s good to see the government take this decision to end the uncertainty over the fate of our public forests.”

Woodland on the Blickling Estate, Norfolk. (NTPL)

“It is vital that the conservation work the Forestry Commission has done, restoring ancient woodland and providing woodland recreation, is sustained. We are pleased to see additional short-term funding for the FC, but hope that the Government’s emphasis on generating more of its income from commercial activity is not at the expense of providing conservation and recreation benefits.”

“It’s really good to have the Government agreeing to most of the other recommendations of the Panel. The policy statement is light on detail for some key areas, and we look forward to hearing more about how these aspirations can be turned into reality. There are no big surprises, and given the big vision from the Panel it would have been nice to see a few more fresh commitments and new initiatives.”

New report sheds light on the importance of outdoor play.

New research carried out by the Forestry Commission Wales and Cardiff Metropolitan University reveals the importance of outdoor play in line with the National Trust’s own Natural Childhood Inquiry. Education experts spent a year studying a group of 13 children from Meadowlane Primary School in Cardiff as part of a Forest School programme to assess how our woodlands can help their development.

“…Allowing children the freedom to explore a natural environment offers a wealth of opportunity to develop creative self-directed play.”

‘Forest’ Schools in Wales

The report outlines a reflective journey on a year long Forest School programme with a group of year four primary children in South East Wales. The Forest School approach has been popular within the Foundation Phase in Wales, however, there seems to have been less focus upon Forest School with Key Stage Two children, this belief was a catalyst for the project.

“…the children seemed to naturally seek to extend their individual boundaries and development.”

The conclusions from this report suggest that allowing children the freedom to explore a natural environment offers a wealth of opportunity to develop creative self-directed play. The report suggests that “all the children tended to take on challenges when they were ready for them.  When left to their own devices, the children seemed to naturally seek to extend their individual boundaries and development” (2012, p35).

“…children are often more involved, imaginative and excited in their learning experiences when they are making their own choices.”

The Forest School leaders aimed to strike a balance between establishing a certain amount of structure during this year-long Forest School programme, which made certain children feel more secure, and allowing sufficient time and encouragement for self-directed learning and play. The report suggests that this time of exploration was invaluable to the children’s experiences.  Observations by the Forest School leaders indicate that the children are often more involved, imaginative and excited in their learning experiences when they are making their own choices. Had the programme been more structured around adult-led activities, these valuable learning opportunities may not have occurred.

The report goes on to question the emphasis placed on self-esteem within a Forest School programme, especially over a short six or ten week programme. It suggests that measuring how self-efficacious children are at specific tasks would be a more accurate and manageable measure for Forest School leaders. It does not dispute the possible gains for self-esteem within a Forest School programme; however, “what it aims to do is open the debate and question the ways in which we measure success” (2012, p. 40).

“For a new generation, nature is more abstraction than reality. Increasingly, nature is something to watch, to consume, to wear – to ignore.”
Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods

 

As part of the National Trust’s response to the lack of connection between kids and nature we launched our 50 Things to do before you’re 11 ¾ campaign in May, with many more initiatives to follow. The issues of ‘Nature Deficit Disorder’ are becoming increasingly understood thanks to research by the National Trust and other organisations.

National Trust statement on Ash Dieback Chalara fraxinea

Following the discovery of the deadly Ash Dieback Chalara fraxinea disease in the East of the country, the National Trust welcomes the fact that the Government has now introduced the ban on the importation of ash trees into the UK which came into force yesterday. 

The Trust is also pointing to the need to provide sufficient investment into tree disease research and more restrictions on plant movement.

It is also working closely with other key organisations and is prioritising the checking of ash trees thought to be currently the most at risk in the South East and East of the country.

Ian Wright, plant health specialist at the National Trust said: “We welcome the Government’s ban on the import of ash trees into the UK.  We are very concerned about what effect this disease will have on a key historic species – and on our landscapes. 

“As well as the threat to ash trees and woods across the country, we are particularly concerned about the risk to some of the magnificent old ash trees in our parkland and ancient woods. We have at least 300 of these on our register of veteran trees and many are over 300 years old. If this devastating disease took hold it would radically change some of our most special landscapes and places forever. These ash trees are also incredibly important for the rich flora and fauna only found on such ancient trees, which includes rare lichens, mosses and wood boring insects.

“A high level focus on tree disease is needed with more funding made available by Government for urgent work on how diseases spread and how to develop greater resilience in our woods.  We also believe there may be a need to put greater restrictions on International European trade in plants to reduce the risk of such disease spread.

“We are working closely with the Forestry Commission (FC), the Food & Environment Research Agency (Fera) and the Woodland Trust among many others to keep abreast of developments, and will take on board any guidance that is issued.

“We are currently checking the sites we believe to be at most risk in the South East and East of the country, prioritising where our most important ash trees are.

“We have already halted any planned ash tree planting on our land and are now weighing up the risk to ash trees of planting of other species that might be carrying the disease.  Our outdoor teams are already undertaking surveys of their ash trees while leaves are still on them to see if any are showing signs of the disease.  We will be referring any suspected cases to Fera and FC.

“We hope the Government will respond to the calls for an urgent summit to discuss ash dieback.”

Press wishing to interview Ian Wright should contact Jeannette Heard in the National Trust press office on 01793 817706 or 07884 473396 or email jeannette.heard@nationaltrust.org.uk

Notes:

1.  There is an estimated 80 million ash trees in the UK – a third of our entire tree population.  Ash is found throughout the country and grows in most soil types.  It regenerates profusely, and as climate changes, oak and beech woods are likely to become more dependant on ash in the future.

2.   In the early 1990s severe dieback of ash (Fraxinus excelsior) was noted in north-eastern Poland.  Trees of all ages were affected and typically displayed small necrotic patches on their stems and branches which later developed into girdling lesions resulting in wilting of leaves, tip dieback of branches and mortality of trees.   Initially, the cause(s) of the dieback were unclear but a species of Chalara was frequently isolated from lesions on symptomatic trees and by the mid-2000s this was recognised as both a new fungal species Chalara fraxinea and as the primary pathogen involved in the causation of ash dieback.

3.   Ash (Fraxinus excelsior) in Britain is the third most commonly recorded broadleaved species highlighted in the most recent Census of Woodlands and Trees, and is the second most widely planted broadleaved tree. Ash is found on a huge variety of site types, calcareous/acid, lowland/upland and throughout the UK.  Ash is an important tree in terms of its timber value and a key component of many habitats and feature of most landscapes.  It is also thought that ash will become a much more extensive and important element of many existing woods as it regenerates profusely and does not appear to suffer serious bark stripping by grey squirrels as do many other native broadleaved species. Because of these valuable characteristics, existing beech woodlands, PAWS restoration areas and even oak woods are likely to become more dependant on ash to survive as healthy and productive broadleaved woodlands.

4.   Since the early 2000s, Chalara fraxinea has spread rapidly across continental Europe with ash dieback now reported from the majority of European countries.  During 2012 interceptions of ash saplings infected with C. fraxinea, were found both in a number of key UK nurseries and shortly after out-planting. The outbreaks/original infection might have occurred as far back as 2009.

5.   Despite the detection of ash dieback in out-planted ash saplings, the pest is not yet considered to be established in the natural environment in the UK, since the infected plants are likely to have harboured the disease prior to planting and there is currently no evidence to indicate that transmission to other trees has occurred. However, the rapid establishment of the pest throughout many European countries, and the existence of appropriate growth conditions for the pest suggest that in the UK the potential for establishment is high and therefore the risk very high.

6.   The National Trust looks after 25,000 hectares (61,776 acres) of woodland and forest. We also conserve historic parks, gardens, commons and pasture-woodlands, where individual ancient ash trees are a highly prized resource – for their beauty and for the plants and animals growing on them – many of them direct descendants from the original Wildwood. The loss of these individual ash trees would mean the entire loss of these species from a site and even a region.

Statement on Ash dieback outbreak

Ian Wright, Plant Health Adviser at the National Trust, which manages some 25,000 hectares of woodland and forest, said: “We’re extremely worried about the potential risk caused by the current outbreak of Ash dieback.

“As a precautionary measure we’ve advised all our gardens teams to not order ash trees and to check any ash planted since 2009 for signs of the disease.

“We will continue to liaise with the Forestry Commission, DARD and FERA for the latest information on this worrying outbreak.”

National Trust reaction to forestry panel final report

Simon Pryor, Natural Environment Director for the National Trust, said: “Last year we saw how much our woods and forests matter to us as a nation and we think that the Panel has got it right in saying that the public forest estate in England should be ‘held in trust for the nation’.

“It is also very important to see the Panels recommendation that the estate is given a new ‘purpose’ based on delivering more for nature and with stronger community engagement in the management of local forests.

“We’re committed, as an organisation with nearly a hundred square miles of woodland in its care, to enabling people to enjoy beautiful woodland.  We encourage the Government to adopt and implement this report.

“If they do, the nation’s protest last year will not only have saved the public forest estate, it will have triggered a step change in the way we treat woodland in England.

“This is an ambitious report which seeks to create a woodland culture and to tackle the widespread neglect of woodland across England.  We particularly welcome the emphasis on access, community involvement and the restoration of plantation woodland to valuable wildlife habitats.”

Read the full Final Report containing advice to the Secretary of State on the future direction of forestry and woodland policy in England.