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Veteran trees and ancient woodland in the Sid Valley

  • by JW

“… working with the Ancient Woodland Inventory.” [Ed Dolphin, Sidmouth Arboretum and Sid Valley Biodiversity Group]

“We all have a lot to learn about how to generate open-grown, ancient, light-demanding trees and shrubs of the future.” [Jill Butler, Ancient Tree Forum]

“The significance of leaving ancient forests untouched.” [Peter Wohlleben, “The Power of Trees” – on BBC Radio 4’s Start the Week]


The Sid Valley has got some fabulous trees: Our Trees – Sidmouth Arboretum

And starting this Saturday 29th, the annual Tree Week will be setting off around the Valley: TREE WEEK 2023 – Sidmouth Arboretum

Last year’s Week also saw a fascinating talk from Ed Dolphin of the Sidmouth Arboretum and Sid Valley Biodiversity Group: Some parts of our valley have been under woodland canopy for several hundreds of years, but this is a managed landscape, or it was until fifty years ago. Where is our ancient woodland and what is it like? Tree Week 2022: Our Ancient Woodland | Sidmouth Science Festival

Earlier, Ed had written a piece detailing research in the Sid Valley:

‘You can’t see the trees for the wood in Sid Valley’

An old oak in Gilchrist Fields, which is about 400 years old (Image: Ed Dolphin)

We think our valley has several areas of ancient woodland, but no ancient trees, with one possible exception. Woodlands are ancient if they have been under tree canopy for more than 400 years. They are important because they have had time to develop a rich diversity of wildlife and they sequester a large store of carbon in the soil. Currently, there are no ancient woodlands listed for the Sid Valley.

The valley floor was cleared for agriculture many centuries ago, but the Biodiversity Group is working with the Ancient Woodland Inventory to assess several areas of neglected woodland on the steep valley sides. The most likely candidate is Combe Wood in Salcombe Regis. It is listed as Bowood on a monastic map from 1281. It was still woodland on the Victorian Tithe Map, and all the Ordnance Survey maps up to the present. Other areas in the Roncombe Valley and at the head of the Sid Valley have been woodland for at least 200 years and have probably never been cleared for farming.

One of the oldest trees that we do have is the large oak in the hedgerow of Gilchrist Field in The Byes, which is a veteran at about 400 years old.

‘You can’t see the trees for the wood in Sid Valley’ | Sidmouth Herald

With more here from Ed on ‘ancient’ aspects of the Sid Valley’s hedge and tree-scape: Hedgerows 2020 Report v2 – Final.pdf

For the Sid Valley Tree Week back in 2018, Jill Butler of the Woodland Trust gave a talk on “Discovering Ancient Trees”: Futures Forum: Sidmouth Arboretum > latest news >>> Tree Week > Monday 16th – Saturday 21st April and Hundreds turn out to enjoy nature walks and talks apart of Sidmouth Tree Week | Sidmouth Herald

Jill returned for last year’s Week: Our walk will be hosted by Jill Butler – Recently retired from the Woodland Trust, Jill understands the history and structure of past landscapes through ancient trees and the ecological aspects of managing trees. Jill says “We all have a lot to learn about how to generate open-grown, ancient, light-demanding trees and shrubs of the future.” Sidmouth Tree Week – May 2022 – Vision Group for Sidmouth

Jill is a trustee of the Ancient Tree Forum: This is a critical time for ancient and veteran trees, the habitats they support and the landscapes in which they can survive and flourish. Their protection is crucial, not least because these living monuments represent a globally important resource, for biodiversity, carbon capture, soil conservation, cultural connection, and mental and physical health. Britain is thought to have the greatest number of ancient trees in northern Europe. The Ancient Tree Forum seeks to secure the long term future of these ecosystems through promoting best management and conservation practice, lobbying governments over their recognition and protection, encouraging research, and increasing people’s enjoyment of old trees. Jill Butler | Ancient Tree Forum

Jill and the Ancient Tree Forum are very much involved in the Woodland Trust’s current project: Ancient Tree Inventory – Woodland Trust and Ancient Tree Inventory – Woodland Trust

And this is one of Jill’s own recordings – of a veteran alder near Colyford – as she lives in East Devon herself: Tree – Ancient Tree Inventory

Jill was part of today’s Start the Week on Radio 4 – and some very interesting conversations:

Ancient Trees

Trees have the remarkable ability to pass knowledge down to succeeding generations and to survive the ravages of climate change, if only we’d let them alone, according to the German forester Peter Wohlleben. In The Power of Trees (translated by Jane Billinghurst) he explains the significance of leaving ancient forests untouched, and is scathing about the failures in forestry management and the planting of non-native trees for profit.

Jill Butler is an ancient tree specialist and a trustee of the Tree Register of the British Isle which records the nation’s ‘champion trees’ – the tallest and biggest trees of their species. But she’s also keen on getting the public involved in helping to find and care for some of the country’s oldest trees with the citizen science project, Ancient Tree Inventory, run by the Woodland Trust.

The healing powers of ancient trees is celebrated in stories throughout history, including the great Icelandic sagas. In The Norse Myths That Shape the Way We Think Carolyne Larrington, Professor of medieval European Literature explores the renewal that comes from the roots of Yggdrasill, the World Tree.

Start the Week – Ancient trees – BBC Sounds