• Ash in The Mendips

    On the hunt for remarkable ash trees and ash landscapes and the day was set fair last Friday for a foray to The Mendips. This range of hills bisected by several limestone gorges is prime territory for the ash and makes you realise just what a difference will occur in the landscape when ash dieback really makes its mark here.

    6.30 a.m and I'm walking the lip of Burrington Combe near Blagdon and the only soul I meet is a chap walking his dogs before work, otherwise this world is mine. Great light. Great colours. And the sidelit textures and shapes of the ash woods across the Combe are just what I'm after.

    After a couple of hours it's time to move on to Cheddar Gorge and again I find the solitude and the light. I'd forgotten quite how many whitebeams there are at Cheddar. I think I found one of the local specialities - Cheddar whitebeam, but there is a lot of common old Sorbus aria here too, and when the leaves are not fully out it can be tricky to positively identify the different species. I'd forgotten quite how much parking space is set along the road at the bottom of the gorge.... must be heaving in the height of summer.

    The afternoon shoot was a trek around the National Nature Reserve above Rodger Stoke - what Gerald Wilkinson in his 'Woodland Walks' considered the "best preserved ashwood in the Mendips", and I'm tempted to agree with him. Although ash dominant there is also an abundance of oak and hazel with occasional hawthorns, whitebeams, hollies and even small-leaved lime. I even spotted a fairly rare flower of the woodland floor - purple gromwell. Can't say I've ever seen it before in all my woodland travels, but maybe I just wasn't looking for it. Fabulous views out across the top of the woods to the Somerset levels beyond and while I was above the woods on Stoke Camp I discovered a quite remarkable acreage of ash regen. - some of it two or even three years old - all from seed blown out of the nearby woods. It made me realise how little these fields are grazed and also perhaps the lack of rabbits and deer to munch it all down. If this was left to do its own thing I'd love to see how quickly an ash wood could establish here.

    A few samplers for you to enjoy here, but a lot more to come soon, and a big announcement shortly......

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  • 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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Archie Miles photography

Archie's Blog

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