This week is National Tree Week. First celebrated in 1975, this is an annual celebration of trees in the UK, organised by the Tree Council. Living in Devon and working at Fingle we are lucky enough to be surrounded by trees on a daily basis. However, we are probably all guilty of taking this for granted – to get us thinking about trees and their enormous value (ecological, aesthetic, spiritual, and commerical to name a few) I asked members of the team to pick their favourite tree in Fingle.
As Tom, the Area Ranger for the Teign Valley and Fingle Woods, explains this wasn’t an easy decision:
As a conservationist and woodland manager I am supposed to pick a big, fine oak tree for my favourite tree….But I’m not going to.
A good explore around the woods will reveal lots of lovely Oaks along old hedge rows, some spectacular trees which are being over topped by the stands of conifer which threaten to shade them out. These are areas of priority work for the National Trust and Woodland Trust in Fingle Woods… but they are not my favourites.
I thought of some of the conifers… massive Douglas Firs, Western Red Cedar and Sequoia, which are to be found within the woods, true giants of the tree world, which cannot fail to impress with their height and girth. I nearly picked these…. but they are not favourites.
I thought of the Larch, beautiful in autumn as its needles change colour, a lovely tree to work with and very useful timber for outdoor use. These trees are becoming increasingly rare as they are infected with the tree disease Phytothora ramorum and felled to prevent infection of our broadleaved trees…. but they too are not my favourites.
For my favourite tree you have to look much closer, on hedge-banks, sunny patches in the wood, areas where conifers have been felled, lurking in the dark shadows of dense stands my favourite tree waits. My favourite tree is hope, is life, is the future of Fingle Woods. My favourite tree could be a snack for a deer. My favourite tree could be crushed beneath an unthinking tyre or even a boot.
My favourite tree is the seedling….doesn’t matter of what, Oak, Beech, Birch, Ash, Rowan and yes even conifer in some places, my tree is what will come after, will move Fingle forward towards our ultimate aim to create a more healthy woodland. Without my favourite tree all our plans for woodland regeneration are as nothing….My favourite tree, given half a chance or some care, attention and most of all space, will one day rule the forest.
Dave, our project manager also plumped not for an individual tree but for a type – Beech (Fagus sylvatica):
The beech at Fingle ranges from formalised plantations that date back to the 1930s (the best example of which is at the top of Clifford Hill) to the beautiful spreading beech down by the river. The beech plantations appear to have been selectively grown from seed of a high quality provenance, probably from mainland Europe, as there a very few native stands of beech of such good form for timber in the UK, straight and lightly branched. The broad spreading trees along the river are more typical of the trees grown from UK seed.
The frustration with beech from a forester’s view is that it’s no longer favoured by sawmills as the timber has a very short ‘shelf’ life. It quickly becomes vulnerable to fungal decay and therefore cannot be stored for long periods. Traditionally, it was used widely in the furniture market but this has declined greatly since the manufacture of fibre board such as MDF. Consequently it does not command a high timber price although in high demand for firewood.
Despite this, it’s aesthetic and biodiversity value makes it a firm favourite. The spring and autumn colour of the beech is arguably unrivalled by any of our other native trees. The autumn of 2016 was exceptional at Fingle and the beech by the river was at times a vibrant yellow, leaving a carpet of leaves, not only on the paths but on the river too. The tall beech by the river in Cod Wood also hosts one of the best displays of wild daffodils and as they decline they are replaced by wild garlic and bluebells, flowering as the first vivid green leaves of the beech begin to unfurl.
Fingle’s beeches can therefore be enjoyed throughout the year. As Siegfried Sassoon wrote:
The glorying forest shakes and swings with glancing
Of boughs that dip and strain; young, slanting sprays
Beckon and shift like lissom creatures dancing,
While the blown beechwood streams with drifting rays.
Rooted in steadfast calm, grey stems are seen
Like weather-beaten masts; the wood, unfurled,
Seems as a ship with crowding sails of green
That sweeps across the lonely billowing world.
Fred, the Ranger for Fingle Woods, on the other hand could pin-point a specific tree:
“Where there is light there is hope…”
I have hugged and still hug many a tree, stand and admire many species wondering about the stories they might have seen. However, my favourite tree currently in Fingle is neither gnarled, particularly veteranised or even that large. It’s a small Oak I currently see on a daily basis and is more of a symbol of hope. It lies just off the sawmills car park and was once shrouded by a dense stand on Douglas Fir and has seen its vista slowly thinned to allow increased light levels to reach its crown. It’s a symbol of the restoration work we will be undertaking and I hope that in a few hundred years time it will still be there with hands alighted on its rough stem, eyes cast through its crown, wondering what stories it has to tell…
I initially thought my favourite tree would also be an oak. It’s certainly my favourite tree species – I love how distinctive the lobed leaves are, how the bark becomes gnarly and deeply fissured with age, how the open canopy allows dappled light to penetrate through and how deeply ingrained it has become in our culture. Indeed, it’s in the logo of both the National Trust and Woodland Trust. I could even identify my favourite oak in Fingle, it’s the one that stands like a sentinel in the centre of Wooston Castle. I admire its ability to withstand the winds up there, am jealous that it gets to constantly admire that stunning view down the Teign valley and curious to know how much history it has observed and been part of. However, the other day I was walking down the steep path from the Hillfort that leads to the weir and a came across a stand of towering redwood (sequoia). Immediately I was transported back to my childhood, as I grew up in a Victorian house with a giant redwood in the garden. It dwarfed the house and when the wind blew it beat on the bedroom windows like a demented beast, yet somehow still stood for home and safety.
Both the National Trust and the Woodland Trust are currently taking part in the ‘Charter for Trees, Woods and People’ which, it is hoped will bring trees and woods back into the centre of public consciousness and political decision-making in the UK. However, we need your help to understand what people want and need from the UK’s trees. Add your voice and help us create the charter. You can submit your story on the website – https://treecharter.uk/add-your-voice/ – it can be a short memory or quick anecdote, or something longer. You could tell us about a tree that is special to you, an experience you’ve had in a wood or share your thoughts on how trees and woods make you feel. Alternatively, comment below and we’ll feed them into the Charter for you.