We've been having a week off this week, to spend much needed time with the family. This has meant there have been no sessions in the woods, so was the perfect time for a bit of tree trimming. Sawpit Woods has some majestic old oaks,‘maiden’ oaks – (trees that weren’t pollarded and have a normal arrangement of branches around a tall, central trunk) whose un pollarded branches evolve and grow and die throughout their lives. Meaning that there are always some portions of dead branches, which we would like to have as much have the control over removing as we can, rather than letting the wind and its method of branch removal technique at random do its thing where we play and learn!
We had found some fallen boughs from an oak tree elsewhere in the 10 acre woodland earlier in the year. So we had a tree surgeon come and walk the woods with us a few weeks ago to discuss how we could minimise any dropping branches and boughs, to maintain their health and the safety of any users of the woods.
The tree surgeon John Sam and his team from Katsura Gardens Ltd came for a day of high rope work to remove the dead branches. We popped down (with our toy chainsaw) to see how they go about such work. Harnesses, chainsaws, helmets, ear defenders, long tree saws on poles and lots of ropes was all we could see through the dense tree canopy.
After watching the work, we set off on an amble through the woodlands to observe, play, scheme and plan. We were lucky enough to be successful in the Woodland Trust community tree pack application. We've got lots of wildlife, colour and fruiting saplings coming in November to plant as part of a community woodland event. So it was great to see the ever evolving growth this month and discuss how, where and why we might plant some of the trees in specific spaces of the woods. Also we thought about how we can not only involve the community in planting them, but how they can form an integral part of community engagement as they and the community grow. We will post further news in weeks to come. We found the fallen oak boughs and practised at being tree surgeons ourselves through play. We came across a few crab apple trees which had started fruiting and stopped, snacked and pondered in moments in the rides and glades.
So now the trees are as super safe to be under as they ever can be for another season and there is lots of dry wood piles at the bottoms of the trees, either for burning in the future, or as a habitat for woodland creatures, as part of the ecosystem of the woodland. Oak trees support more life than any other species. They’re especially important to invertebrates and epiphytes (mosses, lichens, ferns and fungi), which in turn feed birds and other animals. It’s one of the reasons that the conservation of our ancient oaks is so important.
There are more ancient oaks in this country than in the rest of Europe (there are 115 recorded in England that are wider than nine metres in circumference, compared to just 96 across the whole of the other European countries put together.) A tree is generally classed as ancient when it appears to have entered the final stage of its life, which for an oak tree is when it’s at least 400 years old.
One method of determining the age of a tree is by counting its rings- which is obviously not an option when a tree is living and growing. The other method of calculating age is to measure the tree’s circumference, work out its radius and compare this to the average annual growth of an oak tree. We tried this a few years ago with one of the oaks on the farm and showed the children that this was a brilliant reason to engage in the maths they had learned so far at school. They dusted off their pi and worked out it was roughly 350 years old. So although majestic and huge- it is not technically ancient. It’s a method that can’t be completely relied on though! Here are 9 people up the tree, which is where they pondered working out its age.
So now the work and rest is done, we can't wait to be back in the woods next week for more sessions and to explore and investigate the woods with others again. And we are glad the intense heat has dissipated a bit, as although the tree canopy provides a fair amount of shelter and shade, the recent days have been a bit oppressively hot!