On a beautiful summer Sunday in early July, fifteen members gathered at Castlemain Depot at
Parkend, to join History Society Vice President and Verderer, Ian Standing, in a pleasant, informative walk around Churchill Enclosure.
Ian provided some context before the walkers set off by outlining the history of management of the Forest. He then invited the assembled throng to differentiate between two adjacent oak trees. This was the start of an afternoon of education, as Ian, together with former Forestry worker Pete Ralph, demonstrated their depth of knowledge of all things tree and Forest. It turned out that one of the oaks was a pendunculate (common) oak, and the other was a sessile oak, both native to the UK. An adjacent poplar tree prompted Pete Ralph to ‘enlighten’ the party that these trees were specifically grown in the Dean to be converted into Englands Glory matches at Morelands factory in Gloucester.
Turning onto the Lime Avenue, a mysterious upturned stone marked ‘GR’ was observed adjacent to one of the innumerable lime trees. Tree rings then became the topic of the conversation. There are fewer rings higher up a tree trunk, and to measure the age of a tree via rings, this must be done at the base of a tree. Obvious when it is explained, but just one more interesting thing learned during the walk!
Stands of Douglas Fir and Norway Spruce were passed by. Ian explained that the rate of growth of
this type of tree compared with hardwood trees was the main economic driver behind their introduction in the Dean. Then the first of a number of diseased trees was studied, red band needle blight is regrettably attacking the Corsican pines, and they will eventually disappear from the Dean.
Arriving at Redwood Grove, a stand of Coastal Redwood trees provided the next stopping point. Ian explained that they are long lived trees that reach enormous sizes in America. The local examples were pretty impressive as well. In 1986 the biggest local redwood had a measured girth of 5 feet, today the girth is 13feet 6 inches, so the tree has achieved a 48 inch growth in girth in 30years.
Next the Charles II Oak, an ancient tree, came into view. Somewhat storm damaged but still surviving, we learnt that this old tree probably dates from the 17th century. Continuing past Churchill Lodge, the party passed through a stand of oak, which also had beech underwood . Ian explained that this was the sort of sylvan setting beloved of the travel writers who visited the Dean in Victorian times.
The sad site of a dead oak tree provoked more discussion about tree disease. Ian related how both slow oak decline and sudden oak decline are very serious threats to the oak population of the Dean. As yet very little is known about these diseases, although apparently fallen oaks with ‘decline’ symptoms were known to have small root systems, and this might provide a clue to those researching the issue.
The walk finished opposite Parkend Primary School where Ian invited the walkers to use their new
found knowledge to identify a large oak tree. After some discussion, it was declared to be a hybrid of common and sessile oak!