‘Some might say being paid to love and care for trees and woodlands in the South West sounds like a pretty near perfect job, and I would have to agree with them’, said Ben Norwood, National Trust Trees and Woodlands Advisor.
‘My role as a Trees & Woodlands Advisor does however mean I spend a significant amount of time on the road travelling from place to place, but it does give me time to think and what better time to think about trees than during National Tree Week (25 Nov – 3 Dec).
‘The region I look after is big and covers a range of landscapes. This is probably why the woodlands in the South West are such a diverse and interesting place to work. From the oak clad estuaries of Devon & Cornwall, to the unique setting of the Avon Gorge and its rare whitebeams, to the pine heathlands of Brownsea island.
‘I came into my job from a practical angle. I had been working as part of a Ranger team for over 10 years and had been given many opportunities to develop my interest in trees and woodlands. My particular interest in managing veteran and ancient trees was ignited after meeting my former property manager, Brian Muelaner, who went on to become ancient tree advisor for the National Trust. He had such an engaging way of talking about old trees, that I couldn’t help not become interested in them.
‘After undertaking an MSc in Forestry by distance learning I continued to focus and specialise in tree and woodland management in my role as an Area Ranger. Keeping my practical skills up, making sure I read up to date research, attending meetings and becoming more involved in organisations such as the Ancient Tree Forum and the Royal Forestry Society. I was always interested to learn new things. The sheer diversity of ways that people can become involved in managing trees and woods is probably what kept me interested the most, and keen to continue pursuing a career working in the woods. I still have a lot to learn, and I still want to! That is what makes it interesting doing the work I do.
The National Trust cares for some of the UK’s most important trees such as Newton’s Apple, which triggered the great scientist to form his laws of gravity, the Tolpuddle Martyrs’ Tree, under which the first trade union was formed, and the original Irish Yew, which has produced every other Irish Yew in the world.
At Knightshayes, near Tiverton, 18 trees have been awarded champion status, including having the tallest Turkey Oak in the country.
In order to qualify for champion status, trees need to be either the tallest or have the widest girth in the UK. A recent survey by the Tree Register of the British Isles discovered that Knightshayes has 16 new National Champion Trees since the last survey in 2011, bringing the total to 18. In addition to this, they also have around 200 County Champions, including the tallest tree in Devon, a giant Redwood measuring 54.5 metres tall, just 3 metres shy of the height of Nelson’s Column.
Leigh Woods in Somerset was historically part of the Ashton Court Estate, a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), to the west. These two sites have one of the largest populations of veteran trees in the South West.
At Leigh Woods there are almost 400 veteran trees. The southern part of Leigh Woods was historically wood pasture, where open areas of grassland were interspersed with trees and scrub, the trees were either pollarded regularly or left as maidens.
Pollarding is a traditional management technique of cutting a tree 2-3 metres above the ground out of reach of livestock to produce new small branches, which can then be harvested for animal feed and firewood. It is a practice which has generally lapsed across the Country and has resulted in the trees here at Leigh Woods becoming very large and impressive.
These are just a few of the ancient and notable trees that the Trust cares for. Hundreds of our volunteers and staff have spent years identifying these trees at places we look after and we’ve recorded over 30,000 so far.
Old trees have no formal recognition (unlike listed buildings), so the Trust’s survey, along with work being carried out by the Woodland Trust and the Ancient Tree Forum, will raise the profile of these species-rich habitats which are examples of living archaeology.
‘Looking towards the future occupies the thoughts of many people who work with trees. With climate change, the spread of diseases such as Ash Dieback and Phytophphora, how we manage our trees and woodlands is becoming increasingly difficult. What is comforting though is that the National Trust is not alone in these challenges. My job so far has allowed me to work with National Trust staff and people from many other organisations that are all thinking creatively about these challenges’.
‘That will be the key; Working together. For as big as we are and we do own a significant amount of woodland (over 30,000ha), we won’t be able to do it alone. Our work with the Woodland Trust at Fingle, and the concordat the National Trust signed with the Ancient Tree Forum, are just some of the examples of how working together hopes to make an even bigger impact’, added Ben.