I managed to get the day off yeasterday, and headed off for a walk across the countryside between Midhurst and Haslemere. I couldn’t resist a stop off at one of my favourite tree’s, The Queen Elizabeth Oak in Cowdray Park.
It is one of the most outstanding oaks in the country, if not in europe. We are incredibly lucky in this country that the history of our management of tree’s has allowed specimens such as this to survive.
It is named after Queen Elizabeth I, who supposedly sheltered under it in 1591 whilst on her way to Midhurst. It is thought to be somewhere between 800-1000 years old and has a girth of over 40 feet. It is quite possible that as a young tree it was around to see the Norman Conquest in 1066.
For most of its life it was managed as a pollard tree, whereby the top was cut out of it on a regular basis to produce a crop of firewood and poles, it is a process very similar to coppicing, but happens 6 or more feet up in the air. This keeps the regrowth out of the reach of the livestock that would have been grazing around it. Pollarded tree’s can be seen in many places, by keeping the form of the tree low and compact it can elongate the life of the tree and is one of the main reasons this country is the gaurdian of some of the oldest specimens in europe.
As the tree aged it rotted in the middle and is now completely hollow, the deadwood inside the tree is a very important habitat, and provides a home for a wide variety of wildlife, some of which can only survive in close association with very old trees.
As you look up from the inside the sunlight glints in through knotholes and branches, it is a very special place, a living museum, testament to the passing of time and gaurdian of a wealth of knowledge, much of which we are only beginning to understand how to read.
To put up the Speckled Wood building we felled quite a number of tree’s, sometimes I get asked if I feel bad about this. The answer is always no, the timber we are using has been sustainably produced, it comes from woodlands which are managed to produce both good conditions for wildlife and access as well as a useful environmentally friendly product. There are though many trees in our care we should never dream of allowing to suffer harm, and I think it a scandal that they do not have the legal protection they deserve. I just think its important to make the point that there is a distinction between the two and a differnce in the way they can, and should, be managed.