It was the sound of a chainsaw and the felling of a fine mature English oak in 2005 on the borders of Manor Road play area, Wokingham, that provided the impetus for the founding of WDVTA. Barbara Stagles and her neighbours were dismayed that the tree had not been protected. It was yet another well-loved old tree in the Wokingham area whose loss local protestors had been unable to prevent.
After consulting Andy Glencross, then Countryside Officer for Wokingham District Council, it was discovered that, although some important old trees were included in Tree Preservation Orders, there was no overall map of these trees. Andy and Barbara agreed it would be very worthwhile to record all veteran trees within the boundaries of Wokingham Town. They applied successfully to the Wokingham Society for a grant of £10,000 to commission professional assistance from the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers to set up a database, recruit and train volunteer surveyors and begin a survey. This substantial and generous grant was much appreciated.
The first formal training course was held in St Paul's Parish Rooms and was well-attended . Recruits practised their surveying skills in the churchyard on a fine, still flourishing, veteran English oak (MRN 177), over 5 metres in girth and probably over 300 years old. Later groups moved over to record other fine oaks in Joel Park. A further training course was held and by the end of the year approximately 300 veteran or significant trees had been recorded across the town.
A great deal was learned in that first year. Recording trees accurately is a more complex process than might be thought and in those days there were fewer technological aids to ensure the accuracy of grid references, identification and tree features. We found that volunteers needed support to persist in surveying their allocated areas but where they teamed up with like-minded people they enjoyed the experience greatly and accomplished more. Tree surveying proved a rewarding social activity, enabling the exploration of unknown and unexpectedly delightful corners of the town.
While this was happening, Andy Glencross contacted the remaining 16 Town and Parish Councils in the District inviting funds to extend the survey to their areas. Eight councils responded initially but it was obvious that more funds would be needed to achieve a reliable record and that these could only be obtained through a properly constituted organisation. A widely publicised and well-supported public meeting was held in September 2006 where it was agreed to form a steering group to establish the Wokingham District Veteran Tree Association. Councillor Angus Ross gave Council support and all the members of the steering group worked together to prepare for the inaugural general meeting of the Association on January 10th 2007 in the Loddon Room at Dinton Pastures Country Park.
The inaugural meeting of WDVTA was a great success and the new committee set about recruiting co-ordinators for each of the towns and parishes, organising training courses, constructing a new database and preparing an application for funding to the Awards for All National Lottery Fund. This was submitted in July 2007 and an award of £9,250 was granted in September 2007 enabling us to acquire expertise and equipment and cover our administrative expenses. WDVTA was properly in business.
Barbara and Ray Stagles took on the roles of Chair and Secretary respectively and Ian Potts became Treasurer and constitutional consultant. Rex Roskilly designed the logo and Elaine and Malcolm Butler generously offered their technological expertise to set up a more sophisticated database.
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We want to encourage the community to become active in protecting and conserving Wokingham's veteran and significant trees. By supporting projects to survey and record these trees we aim to raise public awareness of their environmental and historical importance.
We promote the care, nurture and cultivation of trees by supporting local projects, working with a network of environmental interest groups and participating in developing relevant local and national biodiversity action plans.
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Initially, WDVTA focused its survey on Wokingham Town, but when the local authority became a borough we kept 'District' in our name as we have members, and have surveyed trees, just outside the borough boundaries.
In 2012 the Wokingham Borough Council (WBC) Tree Officer and the Tree Council contacted us to discuss adding the Tree Warden scheme to our remit. As it had became apparent that it was not just veteran trees that merited our attention we agreed to participate under the auspices of WBC. Tree Warden activities have now become a major part what we do.
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