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Wokingham District Veteran Tree Association
10th Anniversary Report

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Avenue of Wellingtonias

WHAT WE HAVE LEARNED

Avenue of Wellingtonias

Wellington Court, Shinfield

Database

Over 7000 trees are now recorded in our database. Surveys of all accessible areas in six parishes are complete, and records continue to be updated as trees are reported lost or new areas become open to survey. Another two parishes have completed their survey but their data needs to be verified, and eight parish surveys are well underway and should be completed in the next year or two. In Swallowfield the majority of veteran trees remain unsurveyed.

We are aware that we have under-recorded smaller species such as hawthorn, orchard remnants and coppice stools hidden in dense undergrowth.

We can already draw the following conclusions from our survey, and further analyses will be possible when the survey is complete.

English oaks

We knew we would find a lot of veteran oaks but we never expected English oaks to be the most common species in every parish, nor that they would account for over half the trees in the database. So far, 3900 (55%) recorded trees are English oaks.

We are often asked about the ages of trees and in this Report we have given an estimated age for some of the large veterans. Dating is not a precise process and we have published an article on tree age based on species, growing conditions and girth.

chart of number of oaks by girth
Figure 1: Number of English oaks by girth

Figure 1 shows the number of recorded maiden English oaks with girths of 3m and over, together with their likely ages. The youngest of these trees was growing before the end of the 19th century and the oldest ones, with girths around 7m, are probably 550 years old and germinated in the second half of the 15th century.

The reduction in numbers as girth increases shows a loss of half the oaks of any given age every 40 years or so. This assumes that new oaks were germinating at a constant rate from the 15th to the 19th century but we do not know whether this was in fact the case. Further research and analysis is needed to understand this potentially significant conclusion.

Tree numbers and species distribution

Many other species have been recorded: natives such as ash and hawthorn, naturalised trees such as sweet chestnut, and exotic species, including Wellingtonia, planted in parkland and gardens. Many of these 'exotics', such as the Turner's oak, were only planted in very small numbers, so 40 species have under five records and 19 species have just one tree recorded. Only these eleven species have more than 100 trees recorded:

Species with over 100 trees
Common name% of Borough's trees
English oak55
Ash7
Common lime4
Wellingtonia4
Willow3
Sweet chestnut3
Horse chestnut3
Field maple2
Beech2
Hawthorn2
Alder1

Apart from oaks the distribution of species varies from parish to parish. Ash is the second or third most common tree in over half of the parishes, but in five, including Wokingham Town, they are much less frequent at under 4%. Beech has an uneven distribution with no veterans recorded in four of the 17 parishes and accounts for only two of Shinfield’s 1300 trees, yet Arborfield, Finchampstead, Remenham, Sonning and Wokingham Without have all recorded significant numbers. Limes, too, are unevenly distributed.

Sweet chestnut is the second most common tree in Wokingham Town and yet no veterans have been recorded in 5 parishes. Significantly, 46% of the recorded trees are coppice or multi-stem, probably a remnant of the managing and coppicing of sweet chestnuts for timber, historically widely used as a building material.

It is not so much for its beauty that the forest makes a claim upon men’s hearts, as for that subtle something, that quality of air, that emanation from old trees, that so wonderfully changes and renews a weary spirit.

Robert Louis Stevenson

Willows are the fifth most common species with 75% of the recorded trees being pollarded, coppiced or multi-stem. Pollarded willows have been recorded along the Blackwater and Loddon rivers as well as in areas close to the Thames and the Emm and Barkham brooks. The Ruscombe and Hurst parish reports link their willows to a local osier industry but this was probably more widespread as half of the Borough’s parishes, Swallowfield, Shinfield, Barkham, Woodley, Charvil, Hurst, Wargrave, Ruscombe and possibly Wokingham Town, have recorded willows with this historic tree management.

In parishes with significant parkland and large gardens early landowners planted ornamental species. These include horse chestnut, plane trees and avenues of limes and Wellingtonias. Not surprisingly Finchampstead’s second most common tree is the Wellingtonia, with 111 in the famous avenue. However, there are three other significant avenues of Wellingtonias – in Wargrave, Shinfield and Arborfield.

Trees lost

When we survey an area we record stumps, fallen and dead trees as well as those that are living. Records are updated when we become aware of trees being lost through felling, disease or old age but data on lost trees is understated as we often do not get to know about these changes.

250 veteran trees were initially recorded as already dead and a further 108 have been updated as lost since they were surveyed (5% of all the records). There is no significant variation in the percentage of lost trees reported across the parishes.

We know the reason for about half of the tree losses and the numbers are approximately the same for those that had fallen, were diseased, were causing health and safety issues and those felled for development.

Tree density across the parishes

For the eight parishes which have finished their survey we can calculate the density of recorded trees. Figure 2 shows this for all recorded trees and English oaks for these parishes. The variation in oak density can also be clearly seen with the comparison between Charvil (53%), Ruscombe (91%) and Sonning (28%) where the total recorded tree densities are very similar. We may be able to understand the reasons for the density variations once we have more data for the whole Borough. Using 2011 census data we have also looked at the population densities in these parishes, but there is no correlation at all between this and the tree densities.

chart of recorded trees per square km and recorded oaks per square km
Figure 2: Tree density by Parish/Town

External reporting of the Borough’s trees

Trees in the Borough appear in books and on-line sources of data for important trees within the UK.

Two of our veterans appear in the Champion Trees of Britain [1]: the Ruscombe yew (MRN 2277) and the oriental plane in Wokingham Town (MRN 76).

chart of recorded trees per square km and recorded oaks per square km
Alder on River Loddon, MRN 4968

Our data is sent to the Ancient Tree Hunt and most, but not all, has been added to their database. They have given four trees in the Borough their ‘ancient’ classification: the pollarded oak MRN 1134), a sweet chestnut (MRN 1145) in Wokingham Without, the 'Henry VIII' oak (MRN 432) in Shinfield and the churchyard yew (MRN 2277 in Ruscombe. We hope to work with them to rectify the missing data and to see if more trees qualify for this 'ancient' status, especially the sweet chestnut (MRN 5845) in Wargrave.

The Ancient Yew Register has recorded yews in six parishes: Arborfield, Finchampstead, Hurst, Remenham, Ruscombe and Swallowfield. These are all in our database.

The Tree Register of the British Isles (TROBI) records trees in a number of categories, mostly champions for height or girth. The May 2013 TROBI data lists 71 trees within the Borough, of which 34 are in our database. 32 do not meet our database criteria (most are champions for height) and 5 meet our criteria but we have not yet located them as these TROBI records have no grid reference.

lime tree in winter
Common lime, MRN 600

TROBI trees occur in 13 of the 17 parishes, the University grounds have 28 in Earley and there are also a number in the Bearwood estate on Arborfield and Newland. Most of our TROBI trees are ‘County Champions for Girth’ but 3 are ‘Britain & Ireland Champions for Girth’. Two are on the University campus: a Cypress Oak in the Harris Gardens (MRN 3366) and a Lucombe Oak in the Wilderness (MRN 5714); and the third is a True Service Tree in Park Place, Remenham (MRN 2138).

Reference

1. Champion Trees of Britain and Ireland: The Tree Register Handbook by Owen Johnson.   Published by The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (19 May 2011)

Survey details

Detailed survey results are tabulated here (PDF):

Summary

From the 7000 veteran trees we have surveyed, we can already conclude that:

Completion of the survey will enable us to draw more conclusions, but already these pose additional questions such as 'is the proportion of English oaks typical for Berkshire?'. With the publication of this Report and the open access to our data we hope to stimulate help to answer these questions, encourage new members to join to help complete the survey and support our aims to protect, conserve, care and nurture our trees.

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Threats

Over the ten years of our survey we have seen many trees lost from both natural and man-made causes. Age, weather, pests, diseases and the impact of development are all real threats to Wokingham's trees.

Age

Trees age and may suddenly die or decline over many years. Ageing oaks in particular will cease to put out spring growth on some high branches which then die leaving visible dead wood in the crown. This 'stag headed' stage is typical of veteran trees which may eventually shed the dead branches. By itself it is not a sign of a tree in decline and indeed many 'stag headed' trees will have decades of life remaining  [1].

Weather

Trees that have been weakened in some way are more susceptible to storm damage. Most winter storms will see branches taken off trees and some will be completely uprooted. Residents recall the number of trees that were lost in the severe storms of 1987 and 1993, long before WDVTA was formed. In 2016 an oak in Wokingham (MRN 3562) was struck by lightning and lost branches which fell into Reading Road. Two black poplars in Shinfield were lost in 2016 due to storms and had to be completely felled (MRN 5365 and MRN 5366).

What we are doing to the forests of the world is but a mirror reflection of what we are doing to ourselves and one another.

Mahatma Gandhi

Development

Housing developments in Wokingham bring serious direct and indirect threats to its trees. The direct threats occur when building and road plans propose felling. We review planning applications and assess the impact on the affected trees but we do not have resources to cover all developments.

Indirect threats arise where roads or buildings are situated too close to trees where ground compaction and lack of space for root systems damage their health. Branches die and pruning becomes necessary for safety reasons. The trees then become stressed and may die.

Poor maintenance standards can damage trees through over-zealous pruning. In some parks the grass is cut too close to the trees damaging the bark and allowing infections to take hold.

Pests and Diseases

There are many threats to trees in the UK from a variety of pests and diseases. The increase in these threats over the last ten to twenty years is thought to arise from international travel and increased importation of plants from across the globe bringing in new diseases. Trees have mechanisms to defend themselves against infection but these take time to evolve and the UK’s tree stock has not yet had time to adapt to these new threats.

The best known example is Dutch elm disease which devastated most of the mature elms in England in the 1960s and 1970s. There would have been many veteran elms in Wokingham, but of course we have none recorded in our survey.

The Forestry Commission website gives information on the main pests and diseases, how to identify and report them, as well as giving updates on where outbreaks have occurred. The DEFRA website has a risk register.

There are currently seven significant pest and disease threats to Wokingham’s trees. Up to January 2017 just three of these have been recorded but all seven could have an impact in the next few years.

All images in this section, apart from that of the oak processionary moth nest, are Crown Copyright and have been supplied courtesy of the Forestry Commission.

Horse Chestnut leaf miner

leaves with miner damage

The larva stage of this insect pest eats the leaves by mining inside them and turning them brown long before autumn. Most of the horse chestnuts in the Borough are infected and are probably being gradually weakened.

www.forestry.gov.uk/horsechestnutleafminer

 

Horse Chestnut bleeding canker

dark stains on tree trunk

This bacterial disease causes dark oozing stains down the branches or trunk. Trees severely affected by the leaf miner seem less able to withstand an attack from the bleeding canker which is now found throughout Wokingham.

www.forestry.gov.uk/horsechestnutbleedingcanker

Ash die-back

diamond-shaped lesions on tree stem

This is a fungal infection which causes the leaves to turn brown and fall, the crown to die back and lesions to form on the bark. There have been confirmed cases of this disease in the Borough. The current view is that this infection will have a major impact on mature trees but some root stock will remain uninfected. It is also hoped that some native trees will tolerate or fight the infection and be a source of resistant trees for the future.

www.forestry.gov.uk/chalara

 

Oak processionary moth

white fibres making nest in oak twig with caterpillars
Oak processionary moth nest

This insect arrived in England in 2005 and is spreading but has not yet (as of January 2017) reached the Borough. The caterpillars have tiny hairs which can cause skin and eye irritation as well as sore throats and breathing difficulties to people and animals. All sightings of infestation should be reported to Tree Alert.

www.forestry.gov.uk/opm.

Acute Oak Decline

tree trunk with weeping lesions

This is believed to be a bacterial infection. The main visible symptom is oozing of dark fluid from cracks in the bark and a rapid decline in the health of the tree which will die, typically within five years of the first symptoms. Cases have been reported across most of eastern and central England, but none in the Borough (as of January 2017).

www.forestry.gov.uk/acuteoakdecline

 

Sweet chestnut blight

cracking and fungus growth on trunk

This is a fungal disease which is usually fatal. It is spreading in Europe and there have been cases in the UK but none yet (as of January 2017) in Wokingham. The infection attacks the bark and forms a girdle around the branch or trunk. Leaves above the girdle turn brown but frequently remain on the tree.

www.forestry.gov.uk/chestnutblight

Sweet chestnut gall wasp

leaves with galls and holes

This insect is a recent arrival and has been found in Surrey, but none in Wokingham (as of January 2017). The larvae of the wasp cause galls to grow on the buds, leaves and stems of affected trees. Initially green, the galls turn red in late spring, become brown and woody over the summer and can cause early leaf drop. The galls do not have a significant impact on infected trees, but in large numbers they weaken the tree and make it more susceptible to other adverse environmental factors.

www.forestry.gov.uk/gallwasp

 

References

1. RACKHAM, Oliver 2000 The History of the Countryside: the classic history of Britain's landscape, flora and fauna. Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London

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Opportunities

As we have seen, Wokingham's trees are facing many threats from several sources but there are opportunities for reducing and minimising their impact.

The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Awareness and Reporting

We use our newsletter Tree Watch and this website to keep our members aware of pest and disease symptoms and advise them how to report trees that they are concerned about. Prompt reporting and identification of infected trees will mean faster treatment.

Regrowth from uninfected root stock

We are aware of many local hedges where young elms continue to grow from residual root stock. We are pressing for the retention of these hedges and hope that when Dutch elm disease can be treated or eradicated, these saplings can help to return mature elms to our landscape. Some disease resistant elms are being propagated in specialist nurseries and four planted in the Borough are being monitored by our Tree Wardens.

Ash can also regrow from existing root stock and should ash die-back arrive in Wokingham, this may help regeneration. Identification of ash trees that appear resistant to the disease will enable the planting of replacements.

Planning controls and development design

There are many opportunities to reduce the impact of the man-made threats to trees. Local planning controls exist and should be used to minimise tree loss. Once planning applications have been granted, the detailed plans and designs can be examined to ensure they are sensitive to the most important trees. New roads should avoid existing trees wherever possible and new buildings should be positioned far enough from retained trees to avoid damage to either. Development plans should define adequate root protection areas.

Protection during development

solitary tree with protective fence
Fencing protecting root area of oak during development

Over the last ten years the standards used for tree protection during development have improved. Erecting robust barriers around the trees and their root protection area before ground work starts is critical. This should prevent compaction of the ground, disturbance and breakage of roots as well as vehicle damage to the trees. Ensuring that these barriers are not moved or removed until the development is completed is needed on all sites.

Local people have a very important role to play in keeping an eye on developments during construction and should report any concerns to WBC Trees & Landscape.

 

Innovative opportunities

Replacement trees

Under TPO legislation trees with protection orders that have been felled MUST be replaced and we try to ensure that this happens. Whilst it will take decades for the new tree to reach the size and maturity of the one it is replacing, it is still very important that the historic, environmental and aesthetic reasons for the original tree order are recognised with the planting of a successor.

Making a feature of felled trees

At The Hawthorns School, our committee member Steve Radford created a Storytelling Chair from a diseased oak (MRN 151). In Earley, the Duck & the World in Maiden Erlegh Lake was carved from a storm damaged tree. In Shinfield, tree trunks salvaged from roundabout construction have been resited near Pearman’s Copse to provide a wildlife habitat. The area has been nicknamed 'Woodhenge', featured in the Shinfield Parish Walk leaflet, where the trunks provide a habitat for bats, woodpeckers, insects and fungi. We particularly welcome and actively support these innovative uses of lost trees.

tree sculpture with carved animals
The Storytelling Chair
sculpture of duck resting on world globe
Duck and the World

New plantings

With all new developments, whether road upgrades, bypasses, housing or new public open spaces, there come many opportunities for tree planting. Planning ‘the right tree in the right place’ is an evolving skill. Trees too close to roads where the root growth will be restricted and the ground compacted, or trees that will look good for a few years but then grow too large for the space available are not good choices. But schemes where a new hedge is planted interspersed with saplings designated as hedge trees or a specimen tree is planted in a new public area are measures that we are beginning to see more widely adopted in Wokingham and are very much to be welcomed.

For too many years, we have been losing trees faster than we have been planting them. With all the developments in the Borough all residents should be encouraging the Council and developers to be innovative and inspired in tree planting schemes to redress this historic imbalance.

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