Set A update: grey alders (January 2015)

Grey alder No. 3 on the 5th of January 2015.

It’s now been just over a year since I last wrote an update on the Treeblog trees. That post reported on a visit my father and I made to the grey alders on the 28th of December 2013. The next time either of us saw the alders was a year later on the 5th of January 2015 (Set A Day 2,840) – nearly eight years since I planted them as seeds with my own hands. This post has the photos and measurements we took on that most recent visit, plus three tables and two graphs which gather together for the first time ever all of the height and stem circumference data we’ve recorded over the years.

The photo above shows grey alder No. 3 with my father for scale. No. 3 is currently the tallest of all the Treeblog trees, measuring approx. five metres from base to upper tip. Its stem circumference is 26 cm at the base and 15 cm at a height of 1.5 m, so it is also the girthiest of the Treeblog trees. It has great form and is clearly thriving out here in the wild. This winter it had male (but no female) catkins, unlike last winter when it had no catkins of any kind.

For comparison, this is the same tree a year ago on the 28th of December 2013. Perhaps it’s just the different angles the two photographs were taken from, but doesn’t there appear to have been a significant improvement in form over the last year?

It’s not all good news for No. 3, however. Just when all the old stem wounds had about sealed over, fresh damage has been dealt by those troublesome herbivores. Whether the culprit was a sheep, rabbit, or something else, I don’t ken.

A perfect branch-bark ridge and branch collar. I’ve grown some real trees!

Here’s grey alder No. 2 on the 5th of January, the second-tallest of the alders at approximately 4.6 metres. Like No. 3, which grows but a stone’s throw away, it too is thriving and has fine form. Its stem has a girth of 23 cm at the base, and a girth of 15 cm at 1.5 m.

And to compare – this is No. 2 on the 28th of December 2013 (sorry about the dark picture).

No. 2 currently sports a mixture of male and (both mature and immature) female catkins, just like it did the previous winter.

Unlike the rest of the grey alders, No. 2 had managed to avoid any stem damage… until now. This fresh wound near the base of the stem has ended its lucky streak, but it’s nothing serious.

Last and I’m afraid least, this terrible photo shows grey alder No. 1 on the 5th of January. The poor devil is easily the lowest quality alder these days. It is in quite a different location to its two old nursery-mates, and the elements appear to be giving it a far harder time of things. Not only is it the shortest alder at 3.8 metres tall (although the stem is longer than that if we disregard the tree’s pronounced lean), it also has a significantly thinner stem than the other two. I measured the stem circumference as 18 cm at its base and 10 cm at 1.5 m. This winter I only counted mature female catkins on No. 1, but last year it had both male and (mature and immature) female catkins.

For comparison, grey alder No. 1 on the 28th of December 2013 with my father for scale – a much brighter picture!

As evident in this photo, No. 1 has the most wounded lower stem. It is also much slower in ‘healing’ these wounds than the other two alders, simply because it is growing that much more slowly and not laying down as much new wood – its annual rings will be closer together.

Stat attack!

I have spent some time going back through a lot of old Treeblog updates to ferret out all of the measurement data ever collected from the grey alders. This is now presented altogether - for the first time ever! - in three tables: one for the heights, one for the basal stem girths, and another for the stem girths at a height of 1.5 m from the ground. There’s hardly a wealth of data to show for almost eight years of growth, but I’ve only got myself to blame for that. I’ve even made a couple of graphs, so that the changes in the sizes of the alders can be better visualised.

Long-time followers will perhaps remember that there used to be a fourth grey alder, which in the early days was an absolute stonker of a young tree. After transplantation into the wild in spring 2010 however, it was soon tragically destroyed by sheep. No. 1, the current third-placed alder, grows just a few metres from where No. 4 met its untimely end. With hindsight, this is clearly a bad location for tree planting. I can’t help but wonder what might have been had I planted these poor souls in the same spot as Nos. 2 & 3… But I digress.

Table 1. The heights (in metres) of Treeblog’s Set A grey alders.

Date No. 1 No. 2 No. 3 No. 4
1st Oct. ‘07 0.04 0.02 0.03 0.01
2nd June ‘08 0.14 0.65 0.12 0.30
20th Apr. ‘09 0.75 0.55 0.65 0.91
27th Jun. ‘09 1.05 0.71 1.09 1.20
19th Aug. ‘09 1.96 1.50 1.70 1.86
28th Mar. ‘10 2.07 1.59 1.90 -
20th Jun. ‘10 2.40 1.80 2.25 1.80
25th Sep. ‘10 2.80 2.50 2.80 1.35
11th Feb. ‘11 - 2.45 2.75 X
13th Mar. ‘11 2.70 - - X
29th Sep. ‘11 2.50 3.05 2.75 X
19th Oct. ‘12 3.10 3.50 3.60 X
9th Jun. ‘13 3.30 3.60 3.60 X
5th Jan. ‘15 3.80 4.60 5.00 X

Graph 1. The heights of Treeblog’s Set A grey alders.

The graph illustrates that No. 1 was actually the tallest alder in early 2010, when I transplanted them all into the wild – its poor location has clearly had an adverse affect on its growth, allowing it to be overtaken by both Nos. 2 & 3. No. 3 itself actually suffered a major setback in April 2011 when it somehow had its top broken off, allowing No. 2 to reign briefly as the tallest alder. It didn’t take long for No. 3 to recover, but a kink half-way up its stem (noticeable in the first photo in this update) still marks this breakage today. Graph 1 also shows the sorry end of No. 4, which gradually shrinks as it is destroyed by sheep.

Table 2. The stem girths (in centimetres) of Treeblog’s Set A grey alders (measured at base height).

Date No. 1 No. 2 No. 3 No. 4
20th Jun. ‘10 9.0 9.0 9.5 9.0
25th Sep. ‘10 9.5 11.0 11.5 -
11th Feb. ‘11 - 10.5 12.0 X
13th Mar. ‘11 9.5 - - X
29th Sep. ‘11 11.5 13.0 14.0 X
19th Oct. ‘12 15.0 18.0 18.0 X
9th Jun. ‘13 14.0 18.0 19.0 X
28th Dec. ‘13 15.0 19.0 21.0 X
5th Jan. ‘15 18.0 23.0 26.0 X

Table 3. The stem girths (in centimetres) of Treeblog’s Set A grey alders (measured at 1.5 metres above the ground).

Date No. 1 No. 2 No. 3 No. 4
20th Jun. ‘10 4.0 2.0 4.0 2.0
25th Sep. ‘10 5.0 4.5 5.5 -
11th Feb. ‘11 - 5.0 6.0 X
13th Mar. ‘11 5.0 - - X
29th Sep. ‘11 6.0 7.0 7.0 X
19th Oct. ‘12 7.0 9.0 9.0 X
9th Jun. ‘13 8.0 10.0 10.0 X
28th Dec. ‘13 8.0 11.0 12.0 X
5th Jan. ‘15 10.0 15.0 15.0 X

Graph 2. The girths of Treeblog’s Set A grey alders.

This graph shows two sets of data for each alder; the larger girths are the measurements taken at the base of the stem, and the smaller girths are the measurements taken at a height of 1.5 m from the ground (about breast height). The story is similar to the heights – Nos. 2 & 3 are performing well but No. 1 is lagging behind. No. 3 is pulling away from No. 2 in basal girth, but both are performing more or less equally in girth at 1.5 m.

Hopefully I’ll be able to make another visit to see the alders in June. It would be nice to see them in leaf again!

Posted in The treeblog trees

The Groaning Tree of Badesley

I recently came across an interesting passage on a tree that groaned in a dusty tome called Old England: A Pictorial Museum (published by Charles Knight in 1845). The author recounts William Gilpin’s sketch of a rather singular elm from his older and dustier tome Remarks on Forest Scenery; and other Woodland Views (first published in 1791). Here is Gilpin’s original description:

The next tree I shall exhibit from New-forest, is the groaning-tree of Badesley; a village about two miles from Lymington. The history of the groaning-tree is this. About forty years ago, a cottager, who lived near the centre of the village, heard frequently a strange noise, behind his house, like that of a person in extreme agony. Soon after, it caught the attention of his wife, who was then confined to her bed. She was a timorous woman, and being greatly alarmed, her husband endeavoured to persuade her, that the noise she heard, was only the bellowing of the stags in the forest. By degrees, however, the neighbours, on all sides heard it; and the thing began to be much talked of. It was by this time plainly discovered, that the groaning noise proceeded from an elm, which grew at the end of the garden. It was a young, vigorous tree; and to all appearance perfectly sound.

In a few weeks the fame of the groaning tree was spread far and wide; and people from all parts flocked to hear it. Among others, it attracted the curiosity of the late prince, and princess of Wales, who resided at that time for the advantage of a sea-bath, at Pilewell, the seat of sir James Worsley, which stood within a quarter of a mile of the groaning-tree.

Tho the country-people assigned many superstitious causes for this strange phenomenon, the naturalist could assign no physical one, that was in any degree satisfactory. Some thought, it was owing to the twisting and friction of the roots. Others thought it proceeded from water, which had collected in the body of the tree - or perhaps from pent air. But no cause that was alledged, appeared equal to the effect. In the mean time, the tree did not always groan; sometimes disappointing it’s visitants: yet no cause could be assigned for it’s temporary cessations, either from seasons, or weather. If any difference was observed; it was thought to groan least, when the weather was wet; and most when it was clear, and frosty: but the sound at all times seemed to arise from the root.

Thus the groaning-tree continued an object of astonishment, during the space of eighteen, or twenty months, to all the country around: and for the information of distant parts a pamphlet was drawn up, containing a particular account of all the circumstances relating to it.

At length, the owner of it, a gentleman of the name of Forbes, making too rash an experiment to discover the cause, bored a hole in it’s trunk. After this it never groaned. It was then rooted up, with a farther view to make a discovery: but still nothing appeared, which led to any investigation of the cause. It was universally however believed, that there was no trick in the affair: but that some natural cause really existed, tho never understood.

Posted in Miscellany + Notable trees

Set A update: grey alders (December 2013)

While I was back down in Yorkshire for Christmas my father and I went off to check up on the Treeblog Set A grey alders, which have now been fending for themselves in the wild since April 2010. I am pleased to report that on the day of our visit - the 28th of December (Set A Day 2467) - all three trees were alive and looking as healthy as they possibly could be for deciduous trees in the middle of winter. I last visited my alders in June with a couple of friends, when we filmed this video outlining their story so far…

So what has changed in the intervening six months?

Grey alder No. 1 on the 28th of December with my father for scale. Despite being solidly stuck into the ground, No. 1 leans significantly to the north. I think this lean has become more pronounced since my last visit, presumably because of the lack of shelter from wind funnelling down the wee valley No. 1 calls home.

I’m not particularly bothered by the lean. Who knows? Perhaps it will correct itself. The neighbouring rowans hardly seem to have been bothered too much by the wind.

Mature female catkins on grey alder No. 1.

On this visit I counted two clusters of mixed immature male and female catkins and five clusters of mature female catkins, or ‘cones’. I first noticed catkins on No. 1 in March 2012 – back then it was a single cluster of immature female catkins (with the attached remains of a solitary flowering male catkin). On a visit in October 2012 these female catkins had progressed to near-enough full size but were still green; I also noticed a couple of clusters of immature male catkins (preparing to flower in spring 2013). On my last visit, in June 2013, I saw a few clusters of immature female catkins – these are now matured into the woody cones I saw a couple of weeks ago.

The nasty grazing wounds inflicted on No. 1’s lower stem soon after planting out are continuing to close up as more woundwood is laid down. It looks like a rabbit has left droppings here too, although why it needed to leave them so close up against my tree is unclear.

You may or may not know this but alder No. 1 stands about 2 km away from Nos. 2 & 3. A fortnight after planting Nos. 2 & 3, my father and I planted Nos. 1 & 4* on the 14th of April 2010 and afterwards, for whatever reason, we left a record of our passing by on my preferred route between the two spots. We scrawled a message on a piece of papery downy birch bark and hid it in a nook beside an ancient stream crossing point. Rather surprisingly, that piece of bark remains in a remarkably well-preserved state in that very nook to this day! Here it is on the 28th of December…

* Grey alder No. 4 was sadly eaten to death by sheep within a year of being planted out.

…and here it is on the day we left it there, almost four years ago!

Grey alder No. 2 on the 28th of December. Still the best of the alders - it has the straightest stem, no stem damage from sheep, and by far the most catkins.

Silhouetted against the sky at twilight, three woody cones (2013’s female catkins) take centre stage while multiple clusters of immature male catkins hang in the background, biding their time until spring arrives.* Besides the three cones in this photo there was another one on its own, three clusters of female-only immature catkins, and 18 clusters of mixed male/female immature catkins. No. 2 had no catkins at all in 2012, but on my visit in June 2013 I counted at least six clusters of immature female catkins (no male catkins though).

* Interestingly, while walking around Drummond Hill up near Loch Tay on the 3rd of January I noticed an alder (probably common alder, Alnus glutinosa) and a couple of hazels (Corylus avellana) that were already unfurling their male catkins into spring mode! A bit early, surely? And yesterday, in Edinburgh, I noticed a couple of hazels by the Water of Leith that were doing exactly the same thing. Is this because of an unusually mild winter? Back in Sheffield I wouldn’t expect to see alder or hazel catkins flowering until February.

This bark on the stem of alder No. 2 caught my eye – there’s something snakeish about it.

Grey alder No. 3 – very tall and sturdy.

No. 3 had its top broken out in April 2011. I don’t know what happened to cause that, but it recovered quickly and all that remains to tell of that distant event is a slight kink in the stem, plus a fragment of the old broken leader. The kink is apparent in the full-tree photo above and shows that No. 3 has roughly doubled in height over the last two-and-a-half years.

I couldn’t find any cones or catkins on No. 3 on this visit, nor could I find any in June 2012. In October 2011 however, I spotted at least six clusters of immature male catkins.

As you can see by this shot of its base, No. 3 is now almost totally ‘recovered’ from the early sheep damage. Hopefully 2014 will see all of the stem wounds nicely sealed up.

Now then, if you’re desperate for some stats I’m afraid I don’t have any up-to-date height measurements… but please feast your eyes on these stem girth measurements taken at both ground level and 1.5 metres from the ground:

Grey alder Stem circ. at base (cm)
Oct 2012
Stem circ. at base (cm)
Jun 2013
Stem circ. at base (cm)
Dec 2013
Oct ’12 – Dec ’13 Increase (cm)
No. 1 15 14 15 0
No. 2 18 18 19 1
No. 3 18 19 21 3
Grey alder Stem circ. at 1.5 m (cm)
Oct 2012
Stem circ. at 1.5 m (cm)
Jun 2013
Stem circ. at 1.5 m (cm)
Dec 2013
Oct ’12 – Dec ’13 Increase (cm)
No. 1 7 8 8 1
No. 2 9 10 11 2
No. 3 9 10 12 3

No. 3 is doing well for itself, isn’t it? I’ll be back to visit the alders again in the summer, when I’ll try to get some height measurements. Will we be seeing a five metre tall Treeblog tree in 2014?

Posted in The treeblog trees

Autumn at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

Autumn is once again a receding memory, growing dimmer everyday as we continue the inexorable slide into the darkest depths of winter… But try hard enough and it’s still possible to cast our minds back to a time when the trees still had leaves; when warm shades of gold, orange and red coloured the landscape; when the mercury didn’t sit so low in the thermometer.

I moved up to Edinburgh from Sheffield at the end of September. (I lived here for the best part of four years previously, while I studied ecological science at the University of Edinburgh.) My flat is no more than a ten minute walk from the outstanding botanic gardens, which are one of my favourite things about living here. I paid the gardens three visits with my camera in one week soon after I moved in. How about some autumnal photographs then?

28th September 2013

This towering deodar (Cedrus deodara) grows close to the East Gate. It is a beautiful and imposing tree, one of the finest in the gardens.

Looking up into the hefty crown of the deodar - how many branches? How many growth points? What tonnage of timber?

A neighbouring big, old sweet chestnut (Castanea sativa) seems sadly to be in serious decline. The tree was rather sparsely foliated at the time of this visit, but at that point in the autumn natural leaf loss would have been premature. It’s a shame because it’s another fine tree. A major branch has a few old wounds on it, one of which sported a nice bit of fungus. It’ll be interesting to see how the tree looks in spring.

I came across these Pholiota squarrosa mushrooms growing at the base of a big European beech (Fagus sylvatica). They were also growing around the base of a nearby heartnut, a variant of the Japanese walnut (Juglans ailantifolia var. cordiformis). P. squarrosa is a parasitic white-rot fungus that attacks a wide range of host trees.

This mushroom was growing under a pine tree… …along with its wee pal.

This dawn redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides) in the Chinese Hillside part of the gardens was positively radiant. The needles - here so vibrantly illuminated - are now long gone, this being a deciduous species.

29th September 2013

This oak really stood out from the crowd!

A nice cider gum (Eucalyptus gunnii) growing in front of the 1960s glasshouses. At least this tree will keep its leaves all winter long.

3rd October 2013

Autumnal maple leaves.

On this visit I was quite keen to get some photos of the mushroom population. There weren’t so many of a big enough size to stand out as I strolled along, but if I just stopped for a moment to study the mulch that surrounds the base of every tree, there were far more mushrooms to be seen than most people would have realised. Perhaps these are waxcaps of some sort?

The distinctive spiny cupules of sweet chestnut. Apparently the nuts can’t attain their full size in the British climate, so the roasting chestnuts that appear in the shops for winter are imported from the continent. I had a bag of roast chestnuts at Edinburgh’s European Christmas Market last week – they were enormous and very tasty!

I’m fairly sure this is a hare’s foot inkcap (Coprinus lagopus). This mushroom is quite interesting; according to Wikipedia, “As the mushroom matures, the shape of the cap becomes more conical or convex, and finally flattens out, with edges curved upward. The veil is initially whitish, then turns to a silvery grey or grey-brown; it eventually splits up, becoming hairy (fibrillose). ... In maturity the gill edges dissolve (deliquesce) into a black liquid. These mushrooms are evanescent, lasting only last a few hours before death…”

Posted in Gone for a walk

The Plantations on the Estate of Wentworth (1888)

I recently came across a report entitled The Plantations on the Estate of Wentworth, Yorkshire in Volume 12 of the Transactions of the Royal Scottish Arboricultural Society, published by that Society in 1888. (You can find a full copy of the book at The report provides a fascinating first-hand account of estate forestry at the end of the nineteenth century - and the proximity of Wentworth to my hometown makes this of especial personal interest. The devastating effects of industrial pollution are given prominence, and the innocuous line that “For underwood and game cover we find… none take so freely to the soil as the Rhododendron” should ring ominously for every conservationist.

I’ve reproduced almost the whole report here. Even though it makes for a much longer than usual blog post, it’s a rewarding read and well worth your time. [Notes in square brackets are my own.]

The Plantations on the estate of Wentworth, Yorkshire. By George Dodds, Forester, Wentworth, Rotherham, Yorkshire.

In this Report I propose giving some details of the nature, extent, and management of the woodlands upon the estate of the Right Hon. The Earl Fitzwilliam, K.G. [William Wentworth-Fitzwilliam, b. 1815 d. 1902, who was MP for Malton 1837-1841 and 1846-1847 and MP for Wicklow 1847-1857 before becoming the 6th Earl], at Wentworth, Yorkshire. [The famous Wentworth Woodhouse was the Fitzwilliams’ stately home.] The estate is situate in the southern part of the West Riding, and extends to close upon 60,000 acres; the woods and plantations occupying about 5640 acres of that area.

The difficulty now to contend with in growing trees in this district is the amount of smoke in the atmosphere, and any one not accustomed to iron and coal mining districts can scarcely conceive the damage done to vegetation by the smoke and fumes from the mines, and also from the coke ovens which are in constant operation in the locality. In making new plantations or in renovating the old woods upon the estate, much care has to be taken to use the species of trees upon which the smoke seems to have least effect. These are principally trees having a smoothish bark, such as ash, beech, birch, Spanish chestnut, horse chestnut, lime, wych elm, and sycamore.

A considerable quantity of larch has been planted of late years, but after reaching a height of ten to twelve feet the trees are gradually dying off, chiefly on account of the unsuitability of the soil for the growth of larch, but also in some measure from the surrounding atmosphere being impregnated with noxious vapours, which are injurious to plant life. I notice the only trees of the pine tribe that seem to thrive here are the Scots fir, Pinus sylvestris, the Austrian pine, P. Austriaca [Pinus nigra subsp. nigra var. nigra, a subspecies of black pine], and the Corsican pine, P. Larcicio [Pinus nigra subsp. salzmannii var. corsicana, another black pine subspecies].

Many of the newer conifers, especially Cedrus Deodara and Wellingtonia gigantea [Sequoiadendron giganteum - giant redwood a.k.a. Sierra redwood], have been planted in the Home woods and Park, but after lingering for a few years they have mostly all died out, and those that are alive present a very sickly appearance.

1. The Home Park.

Beginning with the Home Park, which extends to about 2000 acres, we estimate the area under wood, including some plantations that lie contiguous to the Park, at 1000 acres, of various ages. … Some of the trees in the Park have attained to large dimensions, chiefly oak, and it is currently reported here that some of the older and larger specimens are the remnants of the ancient natural forest, which I have no doubt once stretched across from Sherwood Forest in Nottinghamshire to this part of the country.

I regret to say that many of the largest of the old trees are dead, and more dying every year, some of them containing from 400 to 500 cubic feet of timber. In fact, we felled some last season which contained 430 feet of timber when measured. It is a pity to see so many hoary-headed monarchs of the forest standing dead or dying side by side. They well exemplify Dryden’s beautiful lines:-

“The Monarch Oak, the Patriarch of trees,
Shoots rising up, and spreads by low degrees;
Three centuries he grows, and three he stays
Supreme in State, and in three more decays.”

The earliest planting here of any note was done by the first Marquis of Rockingham [Thomas Watson-Wentworth, b. 1693 d. 1750], who lived about 180 years ago. It is rather a curious fact that even the trees that appear to be about 100 years’ growth, have not the least appearance of the older trees, as they are now showing symptoms of premature decay, by the stunted and sickly appearance of the foliage that they put on every season. This I attribute in a large degree to the prevalence of smoke and noxious fumes, which have arisen in this locality within the last hundred years or so.

There are some very fine rows of lime-tree and elm in the Park, planted in the same form as the Duke of Marlborough drew up his troops at the battle of Blenheim. The lime-trees are all intact, and are admired by every one, but a great many of the elms have been blown down from time to time, and not having been replaced, the gaps spoil the general effect. These trees are now about 170 years old.

… For underwood and game cover we find Rhododendron ponticum the most useful, although we plant several other sorts, such as blackthorn, privet, and hazel, but none take so freely to the soil as the Rhododendron.

[Ordnance Survey mapping shows plenty of woods in and around Wentworth Park, with some even including ‘plantation’ in their name, e.g. Cortworth Field Plantation and Mausoleum Plantation. Google Maps shows two lines of trees ‘facing’ each other (see below) – are these the remains of the ‘Battle of Blenheim’, or just a northern approach avenue to the big house? More research and a visit is required!]

2. Rainbro’ Park.

This wood may be said to be one of the Home plantations, as it lies immediately outside of the Park, and extends to 200 acres, varying in age from 6 to 150 years. …

The original crop has been oak, but as it was showing symptoms of decay, the greater portion of the old trees were cut down a few years ago, leaving only a few of the healthiest and best for the sake of appearance in the landscape. … A great many of the old trees are dying off and should be removed, which process will now require extra care, to avoid much damage to the healthy growing young trees.

[Rainborough Park is still a good-sized wood on OS mapping.]

3. Hood Hill.

It is about 80 years old… Some very promising specimens of beech and Spanish chestnut are growing here. …

[Today the OS shows 3 woods around Hood Hill, including Hood Hill Plantation.]

4. Low Woods.

This plantation extends to 180 acres, and is about 150 years old. … This wood has suffered severely from being in the neighbourhood of iron-works, which, however, are now done away with. I have advised to clear the greater portion of the present crop away and replant the ground with the most suitable kinds of trees.

[OS shows a Low Wood and adjacent Lowe Wood two or three miles north-west of Tankersley.]

5. Tankersley Woods.

This district comprises a parish and township lying at a high elevation, and is consequently much exposed. The highest part is about 600 feet above sea-level, and lies very exposed to the west wind. The woodlands extend to about 600 acres, and the trees vary in age from 10 to 70 years. … The younger woods have been planted in narrow belts, and mostly on land which has been occupied by old pit workings… This is also a smoke infested district, one of the largest iron-works in Yorkshire being upon the land, and also an extensive colliery. We are kept continually felling dead trees, and I am of the opinion that, if the smoke continues, very few live trees will be found in the course of a few years.

[There are still several woods around the small villages of Tankersley and Pilley, although an industrial estate and three major roads, including the M1, are now prominent in the area.]

6. Swinton Woods.

The woodlands in this district extend to about 300 acres. The trees are chiefly oak. …

The woods in the district have all the appearance of having been well attended to, and thinning has been judiciously practised. The great majority of the trees are well grown and healthy, and exhibit all the signs of attaining to valuable dimensions.

[Swinton now forms an urban conurbation with the towns of Wath-upon-Dearne, Mexborough and Rawmarsh; however, there are still a few small woods mostly to the south-west of town, many of which have ‘plantation’ in the name, e.g. Blackamoor Inn Plantation and Long Plantation.]

7. Eccleshall Wood.

This is a large wood extending about 450 acres, and lies to the south-east of the town of Sheffield. Portions of it have already been taken up for building sites, and in a few years hence, I have no doubt it will be extensively used for that purpose, lying as it does within easy reach of such an important and progressive town.

… It is moderately sheltered, and I believe is also an outlying part of the ancient Nottinghamshire Forests. The crop is oak, and must be of great age, as all the trees have the appearance of being grown from old stools.

The oak is not healthy, and shows symptoms of dying off in the course of a few years. Some planting has been done in a few of the openest parts, and consists of larch, Scots fir, sycamore, Spanish chestnut, ash, elm, mountain ash, birch, and beech, and all promise to grow well. The ages of the recent plantings are from 12 to 4 years. The great difficulty to contend against is the brackens and other rank herbage that grow upon this land, which entail a great amount of labour and expense in keeping the young plants clear. It has been found advantageous to cut the brackens in their early growth, as the constant bleeding weakens them much.

[Ecclesall Woods are today owned by Sheffield City Council and cover about 350 acres.]

8. Tinsley Park Wood.

This wood lies intermediate between the towns of Rotherham and Sheffield, and receives the full effect of the smoke, sulphur, and other fumes, no matter from which direction the wind may blow.

… The extent is 350 acres, age unknown, but to all appearance the wood is natural. The crop is oak, with a few birch that have grown up naturally. The greater portion of this wood is, consequently, a matter of some consideration for the owner, as to whether to keep it up as a wood or not? It is completely surrounded by public works, which entail great difficulties in the matter of planting. If replanting is undertaken here, I have recommended to plant sycamore, ash, birch, beech, and wych elm, as the trees most likely to grow to anything approaching timber size in such a locality.

[The ancient and historic Tinsley Park Wood is no longer with us; in its place we have Sheffield Airport, Tinsley Park Golf Course, the A630, and a big Morrisons. It was coal-mining, however, that brought about the wood’s destruction.]

9. Edlington Wood.

This wood extends to 510 acres… This is one of the most valuable woods upon the estate, and is no doubt a part of the remains of the Nottinghamshire Forests, as it is situate close to the borders of the counties of York and Nottingham. Some yews in the centre of the wood are of immense size and great age. The are still growing, and very healthy, and may at one time supplied Robin Hood and his merry men with bows and arrows.

The crop is principally natural oak, having a few ash, beech, and larch mixed through it which were planted about 60 years ago. The trees are generally healthy, but in some instances the older oaks show symptoms of decay, chiefly in the top branches, which may be attributed to the repeated cutting over, and springing up again from the old stools. The old oaks contain an average from 40 to 70 cubic feet. This wood has been worked upon the coppice principle. There are several miles of fine drives through it in various directions.

[Edlington Wood still exists, albeit adjacent to the M18.]

10. Bradfield Plantation.

An extensive tract of moorland extending to about 1800 acres. This district lies at an altitude of about 900 feet above sea-level… A ravine traverses a great portion of the wood, and upon the slopes, on both of its sides, the trees have done well.

The first planting was begun here in 1817 with 45 acres, and the whole extent was finished in 1830. The crop is principally larch and Scots fir, with a few spruce. The earliest planted parts are fast coming to maturity, hundreds of trees dying off every year. We are now contemplating clearing it off in sections, and replanting.

An experiment was tried here in a part where the soil is deepest and best. About 40 acres were sown with oak acorns; these have grown, but never attained to any size or value. The largest trees after 60 years’ growth may contain from three to four cubic feet, whilst many of the larch grown beside them contain 25 feet of wood. This has been a very profitable investment for the owner, as the land is chiefly moor, and of very little value for any other purpose. The larch grown here has the reputation of being very tough and durable. It has been mostly sold at one shilling per foot, at a distance of nine miles from a railway station or the nearest market. The whole of this wood is enclosed with a substantial stone wall.

[I have driven through this wood countless times. A couple of years agoI noticed that a large compartment had been clearfelled. This work was carried out as part of the ‘Bradfield Moorland Regeneration Scheme’1 – I have a bit more to say about this in a note at the end of this post.]


I cannot say that the woods upon this estate have been managed upon the most scientific principles, still they will compare favourably with most other extensive woodlands in the district.

The woods No. 7, 8, and 9, mentioned in this report, have been treated as coppice woods, or as they are termed in the district, “spring woods.” The routine of management of these woods is to have a fall every year; so that all the ground may be gone over in twenty-one years.

The timber is sold standing, by public auction, in early spring. The trees are all previously marked, measured, and valued by the woodman. The purchase pays all the expenses for felling, peeling, cutting, and clearing the underwood, etc. In a book for the purpose, the reserved trees, and trees for sale, are all noted. No tree is measured that does not contain ten cubic feet of timber. Under that size they are classed as poles. The system of measuring is as follows. The men are supplied with six rods, each six feet long, with ferrules to slip the rods into as they are passed up the tree. One man uses the rods, another the tape for the girth, and a third enters the number of tree, the length, and the girth into the book. It is surprising how near, by this simple method, they can go to the contents of each tree.

It is the custom to peel the trees standing, which is certainly an advantage in getting the bark earlier cured, as no time is lost in felling. I am of the opinion that it is also better for the timber, as the longer it stands after being barked, it is always becoming more seasoned.

Many would perhaps object to the purchaser cutting down the wood, but in this case it is no objection, as the woodmen are the proprietor’s servants; the purchase agreeing to pay for the working of wood at prices stated in the Rules of Sale.

The usual contract prices for working the wood are as follows:- for felling, per ton of 40 feet, 3s.; barking, per ton, 30s.; cutting and ranking of cordwood, 4s. per cord; stakes per score, 3d.; and so on, the woodmen providing their own tools.

In the Home plantations and Park much the same system of piece-work is carried out, especially in felling, barking, and similar operations, the same price being paid as in the “spring woods,” but in all the cases the wood is felled before it is sold, which is mostly done by private bargain.

The younger plantations have been partially thinned, but no system of pruning has been adopted. The consequence is, that most of them are found full of straggling, lob-sided trees, which might have been straight and well-grown if proper attention had been paid in due time to the pruning of them.

Planting was formerly done by contract; letting it to some of the working men, at so much per 1000 for making the pits and putting in the plants. This is a system which I do not approve, and consequently it has been put a stop to.

There are two nurseries, of about three acres each, upon different parts of the estate, for keeping up a supply of young trees, and plants for underwood. Seedlings are generally bough and kept a year or two, as the case may be, and in this way the young plants become to a certain extent acclimatised before being planted out permanently. Plants grown in these nurseries lift with abundance of roots, and when planted out they soon lay hold of the ground, and begin to grow with vigour at an early period. In this and other ways, they are an important advantage upon an estate.

1 The Bradfield Moorland Regeneration Scheme is a scheme whereby a significant proportion of ‘Bradfield Plantation’ will be clearfelled over a three-year period, reverting the land back to its historic moorland state. I’ve plucked the salient points from the Scheme’e environmental statement, which can be found in its entirety on the Forestry Commission England’s website. The woods and surrounding moorland, by the way, are still owned by Fitzwilliam (Wentworth) Estates.

[Under the heading of ‘Historic Landscape Context’]
Thomas Jeffrys’ Map of 1775 shows the study area to be open moorland labelled as “Hallfield Moor”, and there is no indication of tree cover in the vicinity. The land in the study area was allotted and enclosed by a Parliamentary Enclosure Act of 1826, which shows a managed plantation/woodland in place. So, it seems the Wentworth Estate converted part of the moorland to plantation sometime between 1775 and 1826. … The beech and oak plantations date from around 1900 and the bulk of the conifers were re-planted between 1923 and 1956.

[Under the heading of ‘Overall Project Objectives’]
The revised Bradfield Moorland Regeneration Scheme proposes to restore approximately 69ha of existing conifer plantation to a mosaic of dry dwarf-scrub heathland, wet heath and mire communities, and native broadleaved woodland to be managed as a grouse moor, retaining 136ha of existing conifers and semi-natural broadleaved woodland within the study area.

Posted in Miscellany

Panthercaps in Millstones Wood

A couple of panthercaps (Amanita pantherina) in Millstones Wood.

I went for a walk with my camera through Millstones Wood at the weekend to get some shots of the panthercaps which are presently abundant beneath the beeches (Fagus sylvatica) in the north-eastern part of the wood. I’d walked through the wood earlier in the week and seen all of the mushrooms but I didn’t have my camera on me, so a repeat visit was called for!

A very young mushroom – an ‘Amanita egg’. At this stage the developing mushroom is still completely contained within the unbroken veil.

This young mushroom has fully emerged from its veil, but the cap has yet to open completely. Fragments of the veil remain attached to the cap forming the distinctive ‘warts’ which are a defining feature of many Amanita species.

According to my copy of Roger Phillips’ Mushrooms, the panthercap’s habitat is “in coniferous or deciduous woodland, especially with beech; summer to autumn. Occasional to frequent.” My mushrooms were found in an area of almost exclusively beech woodland with the occasional oak thrown in. Indeed, I saw one panthercap growing right at the very foot of a mature oak, but all the others were growing from the ground litter typical of beech woodland: old rotten beechnut cupules, old rotten beech leaves, beech twigs – and precious little else. The beech and the panthercap are obviously in mycorrhizal cahoots.

The cap is “finely striate at the margin”...

The panthercap is poisonous, by the way; “may be deadly” according to Phillips.

Exiting Millstones Wood onto the grassy hilltop that commands views of the Little Don and Ewden valleys, marked on the map as The Height, another sort of fungus was common. I counted well over a dozen of these small puffballs dotted about – perhaps the mosaic puffball (Handkea utriformis)? I’m not really sure!

Posted in Gone for a walk

Treeblog Video #1. Set A update: grey alders (October 2012 & June 2013)

I have been very lax for a while now in keeping Treeblog updated with the development of the Treeblog trees. I intend to make amends in the coming weeks by posting updates on all the grey alders, Scots pines, downy birches, rowans and beeches in the Treeblog stable – starting now with the Set A grey alders, which last appeared on these pages over fifteen months ago in this update from March 2012. But before I go into an standard update, please take a couple of moments to watch Treeblog’s first ever video which provides a brief overview of the life of my grey alders so far!

So I’d just like to say, if it wasn’t obvious enough already, that this was my first time doing anything like this on film (and I apologise for my weird Yorkshire accent)! It would be great to get some feedback on the video as I am genuinely interested in what you thought, and Dave Clancy and Steve Young, who did all the filming and editing, would also really appreciate hearing your views. You can leave a comment at the end of the post or you can send an email to the address top right. If you enjoyed our little film then I politely encourage you to spread the Treeblog word by tweeting a link or something!

Right then, on to the update proper!

This is grey alder No. 1 on the 9th of June 2013 (Set A Day 2265), the same day as we filmed the video. The tree is alive and well; the sheep haven’t been back to finish it off.

This is grey alder No. 1 a few months earlier on the 19th of October 2012 (Set A Day 2032), back when I made a pre-winter tour of the alders with my father.

This is No. 1 on the 9th of June again, taken from a similar angle.

When I visited in October I noticed that alder No. 1 had a cluster of maturing female catkins…

…as well as a couple of clusters of immature male catkins, ready to open up and release pollen in spring.

I also visited the alders on the 30th of December 2012, minus my camera. My notes from that day record No. 1 having some mature female catkins and a few male catkins, No. 3 having many male catkins but no female catkins, and No. 2 having no catkins at all.

On my June visit, No. 1 again had two or three clusters of immature female catkins. I didn’t see any sign of last year’s catkins.

This is grey alder No. 2 in October with yours truly for scale...

…and here’s No. 2 again on the 9th of June. It is still the best of the three grey alders in my opinion.

No. 2 had no catkins at all last year, but on my June visit I counted at least six clusters of immature female catkins (but no male catkins).

Here’s grey alder No. 3 in October…

…and here it is again in June.

In October, No. 3 had at least six clusters of male catkins but I didn’t notice any catkins at all on my June visit.

Now for some tree stats. I made measurements of height, stem circumference at base, and stem circumference at breast height (approx. 1.5 m) on my October and June visits, but made no measurements in December. Previously I estimated height by hanging a tape measure off a stick held up to the height of the trees, but (as seen in the video!) in June I took my bespoke measuring stick, fashioned by my father in 2008 and originally used during my dissertation fieldwork! Heights are approximate to the nearest 0.1 m and circumferences are approximate to the nearest centimetre.

Grey alder Height (m)
Oct 2012
Height (m)
Jun 2013
Increase (m)
No. 1 3.1 3.3 0.2
No. 2 3.5 3.6 0.1
No. 3 3.6 3.6 0
Grey alder Stem circ. at base (cm)
Oct 2012
Stem circ. at base (cm)
Jun 2013
Increase (cm)
No. 1 15 14 -1*
No. 2 18 18 0
No. 3 18 19 1
Grey alder Stem circ. at 1.5 m (cm)
Oct 2012
Stem circ. at 1.5 m (cm)
Jun 2013
Increase (cm)
No. 1 7 8 1
No. 2 9 10 1
No. 3 9 10 1

* This only goes to show the potential errors hidden in these measurements!

And here is the base of alder No. 1. It has a much more slender stem than Nos. 2 and 3 and still shows severe wounding caused by grazing sheep. The tree seems to be struggling to compartmentalise this damage by growing ‘wound’ wood.

In stark contrast, the base of alder No. 2 is in pristine condition!

The base of No. 3 still shows sign of sheep damage but the wounds are rapidly being covered over with new wood and should hopefully be undetectable in a few years.

* * * * *

Coming soon: behind the scenes on the Treeblog shoot!

Posted in The treeblog trees

Birthday Tour (Part 3): Loch Tay & the Ardeonaig Sycamore - Killin

…Continuing from Part Two, in which I visited the Glen Lyon Ash.

I don’t think I have ever seen Loch Tay looking so beautiful as it appeared on my 27th birthday – the whole scene was absolutely breath-taking. This is the view west towards the Killin end of the loch…

…and this is the view east. The town of Kenmore (which I had just driven through on my way from Fearnan) can be made out at the point where the River Tay, the longest river in Scotland, exits the loch en route to Perth and Dundee.

Blue skies, snowy mountains, and reflections in a still loch… lovely!

This monster sycamore grows close to the hamlet of Ardeonaig, beside the road which runs just to the south of Loch Tay along its full length between Killin and Kenmore. I’m calling it the Ardeonaig Sycamore, although a more fitting (but probably misleading) name may be the Ardeonaig Plane Tree, as that was the common name for Acer pseudoplatanus once in common usage in Scotland. I discovered this tree last June, being immediately struck by its immense size as I walked by on the Rob Roy Way with a couple of friends (although I had driven along this road at least a couple of times previously without spotting it).

The trunk – and these photos don’t do it justice – really is enormous. It’s just a solid wall of wood. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a measuring tape with me and so can’t provide an accurate size. As you can see, before long the trunk branches into three major stems. Each one would be a respectable sycamore on its own!

When the trunk is examined from the lane, as in the above photo, or when the whole tree is admired from down the lane in either direction, the Ardeonaig Sycamore appears to be in exceptional health. The crown is full and healthy and the stem is flawless – for a tree of such outstanding stature, the expected depredations of age are surprisingly absent.

However… This time I climbed up the little banking / decrepit wall to get a look at the back side of the tree, only to be equally surprised at the amount of decay visible back there! The back half of the tree tells a completely different story to the front half. It appears as though the Ardeonaig Sycamore once had four massive stems, but at some point the back stem broke off completely, probably falling harmlessly into the field behind. In the photograph above, taken looking up at one of the remaining stems, the bottom half of the picture is almost all decaying wood and the associated new growth (the fourth wall of CODIT). The presence of this significant amount of decayed wood right at the base of this huge stem has worrying implications for the tree. I cannot envisage this stem remaining upright for long. In fact, with this amount of decay where all three major stems join the main bole, I would say that in all likelihood this tree is close to disintegrating, with one, two, or all three of the remaining stems falling outwards.

This photograph of the eastern side of the tree shows part of the old wound created when the fourth stem snapped out. Presumably decay was already present to cause that stem to fall, unless it was broken by entirely mechanical forces; however, a wound of this size has undoubtedly promoted further decay, and now the enormous bole is actually mostly hollow at ground level. This is a massive shame. When I came across the Ardeonaig Sycamore last year I thought I had discovered something really special: an enormous veteran tree enjoying the good health of youth. Now I know that it was only putting on a brave face.

And here is one more view of Loch Tay – I can’t resist!

Having left behind the Ardeonaig Sycamore (and Glen Lyon Ash and Fortingall Yew), I made my way to Killin and stopped for refreshment at the Falls of Dochart Inn. The Falls themselves were in low flow and very tame. Unfortunately, before long I had to tear myself away from this enchanting part of the country and make a start on the drive back to Edinburgh… Still, I trust it shan’t be too long before I’m back up at Loch Tay. I am well and truly under its spell!

* * * * *

Coming soon: a long-awaited update on the Set A grey alders…

Posted in Holidays and field trips + Notable trees

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