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Old Trees in The Netherlands and Western Europe

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England 1

In Great Britain there are still many ancient trees. The British even think their country has more old trees than the whole rest of Europe together. Probably this is not true, especialy in parts of Germany, Poland, Sweden and Czechia there are also a lot of old trees to be found. Also it will not be true for forest-trees. Still, for free-standing individual trees this idea is not so strange: in the numerous estates in Britain there are countless free-standing trees and small groups of trees, wich are characteristic for a great part of especialy the English Landscape. Besides the British have a great tradition in preserving old traditions and culture: the typical British Landscape they see as an important part of their culture. Ancient trees are an indispensable part of this landscape.
The most important tree is of old the oak, for that reason called the
English Oak. In most parts of Britain it is the commonest tree, free standing as well as in hedges, small groups, woods and forests. In some areas there are many ancient oaks , for example in Windsor Great Park and Staverton Park in Suffolk. In both parks there are thousands of gnarled ancient oaks, many of them pollarded. The greater part of the old, big British Oaks have been pollarded. The British think pollarding extensions the live of oaks. Probably this is true, the short, pollarded trees are less easy blown down by storms than tall maiden trees. Still, in the rest of Europe there are some striking big old oaks wich never have been pollarded but seem to be just as old as the oldest British Pollards.
In former times another very important tree in Britain was the
Elm-tree. Alas the Dutch Elm disease killed millions of them last century: large, old Elms are very scarse nowadays, exept for Scotland, where the disease never became so strong. Of the native tree-species the most important in the landscape are Beech, Lime and Ash, but none of them have comparable numbers of ancient individuals as the Oak.
Probably the oldest British trees are the enormous big
Yews, nearly all of them in churchyards. According to some investigators these should date from before Christ: older than the churches wich they accompany and wich should have been build near the Yews instead of the reverse. You can see some old Yews below and other specimen and a discussion about their age at the website of the
Tree Register of the British Isles.
On estates and in parks there can be seen many big Sweet Chestnuts and exotes like Cedar of Lebanon, London Plane , Giant Sequoia , Douglass-fir , Grand Fir, Sitka Spruce, Monterey Cypress, etc. Below you can meet some tree-veterans of England.

"Majesty" and other veterans at Fredville Park, Kent

"Majesty" The Fredville Oak, Kent, England

In Kent, between Dover and Canterbury, lies the small village Nonington. Nearby is the Estate Fredville Park, home to a lot of ancient trees. The mightiest tree of Fredville Park is Majesty, the Fredville Oak: according to the famous dendrologist, the late Alan Mitchell, (lit.9), en many with him, the most impressive of all British Oaks. Its enormous trunk has a circumference of 12,2 m (40 feet). There are six oaks in Britain wich have an even somewhat bigger girth, but these are all short-trunked pollards, whereas Majesty is a 'maiden tree' with a long trunk up to 9 m ( 30 feet) height. In total the tree is 19 m (62 feet) tall. The only oaks I have seen in Europe wich are as impressive are the great oak of Ivenack, Germany and one Polish giant oak. At the north-side of the trunk is a big hole: it is hollow all over.
About the age of Majesty there is much divirsity of opinion: Alan Mitchell thought, based upon its quick growth in girth of over 2 cm a year since 1820 , that it could not be much older than 450 years, others think it should be 1000 years. I trust in the estimations of the retired dendrologist of Westonbirt Arboretum, John White (lit.17), who thinks it is between 500 and 600 years old, not very old in view of the enormous trunk. Majesty is quite anonymous: even in the village nearby many villagers do not know of its existence. The owner however cherishes it and the other trees: it is forbidden to do any of the trees harm.

In Fredville Park some more big oaks can be found, but also several beautiful old Sweet Chestnuts like this one with a girth of 8,5 m ( 28 feet). Fredville Park lies directly to the south of Nonington. A public footpath goes south from opposite the Nonington pub into the parc.

Cedar of Lebanon at Leeds Castle, Kent

The beautiful Leeds Castle lies in a nice parkland wich inhabits several nice big trees, like this typical Cedar of Lebanon. This species was first brought to Britain as seed by an Arabic scholar, Dr Edward Pocock, in 1638/ 39. He planted this tree on his rectory lawn at Childrey in 1646 and it is believed to be the oldest Cedar in Britain. The species soon became a familiar sight in the grounds of large estates as it was widely used by the 18th century landscape gardener Lancelot "Capability" Brown, who also designed the park of Leeds Castle. While in the rich British soil they grow fast, they are very large after a century or more, but most of them are blown over or heavily battered before they reach two centuries by the heavy storms of this country. Still, some specimens from the mid-eighteenth centure survive till now and they are huge. The Cedar above will be planted sometime in the 19th century and is of the frequently seen multi-stem type. Some other large Cedars at Leeds Castle are single-stemmed and show the loss of several large limbs, probably thanks to the gale of 1987.

The Yews at All Saints Church, Ulcombe, Kent

Near old churches in Britain nearly always one or more Yew-trees can be found. Many of them are tremendous big and have the reputation to be very old. The Tree Register has already registered over 800 old Yews. Here the Yews of the churchyard of All Saints Church at Ulcombe, just south of Leeds Castle in Kent, can be seen. This is the first of the two, along the path to the church. It is also the lesser one, with a girth of 823 cm. A researcher thinks its age is about 1400 years.

The second Yew stands beyond the entrance, aside the tower, and is even bigger: 10 m! It is among the biggest Yews of Great-Britain. The same researger thinks this specimen is even 2400 years old. There has been a lot of discussion about the age of Yews. For along time it was known they are old, researchers thought up to 1000 years. In recent years some researchers, especially Allan Meredith, have proposed even that the biggest Yews are over 2000 or even up to 4000 years, and in the case of the fragmented Yew of Fortingall, Pertshire, Scotland, even between 4000 and 9000 years. They don't have much hard evidence for this proposal, the Yews are invariably hollow because of heartwood-decay, so complete tree-ring data are not available. To my opinion it is not very plausible that Yews over 1500 or at most 2000 years exist, except perhaps the Fortingall Yew in Scotland, wich in 1759 was recorded to have a girth of 56.5 feet (around 17metres) but since then has split up in several parts and cannot be messured anymore. Nevertheless these Yews are situated at Christian shrines wich were sacred places during pre-Christian era for Celtic groups. They revered the Yew as a sacred tree and could have planted them, but it has not been made sure that the original planted specimen survive till now and have not been supplanted by new ones later.


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