Tuesday 30 April 2013

Britain is no country for neither old men, nor old trees

An article in the 'Observer' on sunday was entitled :

The Pontfadog oak was the oldest of the old, revered, loved … and now mourned

It told of the fate of the 1,200 year old tree which stood behind 'Cilcochwyn', the farmhouse above the village of Pontfadog in Mid Wales which had :

* lost all its main roots and must have only been standing because of its weight.

* toppled in a gale after surviving tempest, battle, fire, the threat of flooding and 40 or more generations of people taking its wood for fuel and buildings.

* been the oldest tree in Wales, the third largest in Britain and one of the oldest in Europe.

* been seeded several centuries before most cathedrals were built and well before the land to the east of Offa's dyke was named 'England'.

* alone, been spared when King Henry II's men razed the Ceiriog Woods in 1165.

* beneath its branches, the Welsh Prince Owain Gwynedd, rallied his army before defeating, the English at the Battle of Crogen, fought just two miles down the valley.

* been mentioned by George Borrow on his journey across Wales in 1862.

* been visited by a group from the 'Ancient Tree Forum', which seeing it was vulnerable to a big wind, put together a list of actions costing £5,700 which they thought might have protected it, but despite a petition of 6,000 signatures to the Welsh Assembly, no money could be found.

* been in the William's family for many years with its archive going back 5 generations reporting that it had been a place for :
- a missing bull and at times sheep to shelter.
- for two golden chisels to be hidden.
- in 1880, six men to meet, seated round a table.
- children to play.
- Victorians to pose for photos.
- generations to carve their initials.

News of its demise was on Facebook by breakfast.

By lunch the experts, the tree enthusiasts and the curious were arriving in Pontfadog.
In the evening, when the tourists had gone, about 30 locals from the valley gathered by it with
Dianne Coakley-Williams saying : "It was like a wake. We raised a glass to it."

Moray Simpson, Tree Officer for Wrexham County Borough Council said :
"It was always a working tree, pollarded or pruned for its wood. It was part of the community. People built houses from it, cooked from it. That's why it lived so long. It always had a role."

According to the Ancient TreeForum database :

* Britain has 80% of all Northern Europe's ancient trees, with 5,365 in England, 581 in Wales and 646 in Scotland and many are 500 years old or more.

* a further 100,000 old trees in Britain are classed as 'veteran', 'notable' or 'heritage' trees, considered to be of particular ecological or cultural value of which 18,535 are oaks and 1,535 are classed as 'ancient', surviving in ancient hedges, old deer parks, on hillsides and even in cities.

Tree experts have warned that many old trees would fall if they were not better protected and Jill Butler, Conservation Policy Adviser at the Woodland Trust said :
 "We protect old buildings and other historic man made structures but there's nothing for our oldest 'living monuments' and there are subsidies to plant trees and money to make footpaths through woods, but no protection for old trees beyond 'tree orders', which theoretically prevent them being cut down, but which can often be circumvented by developers if the trees are decaying." The older trees are, the more valuable they become for wildlife : "They are literally nature reserves on people's doorsteps, and once removed or fragmented the ecology associated with them is isolated and cannot survive." 

According to the Woodland Trust, many ancient trees are in immediate danger because they are in the way of housing developments or roads. At least eight are in the path of the proposed HS2 railway line.

Moray Simpson said : "They are part of our heritage, yet there is no help for owners to protect them. They are national monuments, part of our culture. They're valuable for continuity, an irreplaceable and already extremely vulnerable part of the UK's natural and historic environment".

Ted Green, Britain's foremost ancient tree expert said :
"Man's passion for ancient trees is boundless, touching all walks of life, professions and classes, and is a continuous thread throughout history. We should recognise that the UK's greatest obligation to the conservation of European biodiversity, heritage and culture rests in our ancient veteran trees." 

No decision has been made on what to do with the Pontfadog oak beyond moving it off the farmhouse roof on which it fell.  Left to decompose, it could continue to provide a habitat for wildlife for another 100 years.

There have been proposals to resurrect it as a monument or make a bardic chair from its wood.  Dianne Coakley-Williams, however, is adamant it should not leave the valley :
"It lived here and it will stay here." 

Happily, it has its descendants. Two saplings grown from its acorns are believed to be in the Botanical Garden of Wales and another may be at the local hospital.

Huw Williams said he was only disappointed that the tree's last act would not benefit the family that had cared for it for so long :
"If it had just fallen a few feet to the left, we could have had a new roof."

News report :

No comments:

Post a Comment