Veteran tree hunt - across the Epping Forest District
The tree seen here is the "Dickens Oak" at Chigwell, dating from the times when Charles Dickins was reputed to have spent time at the nearby Kings Head public house.
“An oak tree is said to grow for 300 years, rest for 300 years, then take some 300 years gracefully retiring” Anon
“The term veteran tree is one that is not capable of precise definition but encompasses trees defined by three guiding principles. Firstly, they are of interest biologically, aesthetically or culturally because of their age. Secondly, they are in the ancient stage of their life and lastly that they are old relative to others of the same species.” Helen Read Veteran Tree Initiative 1999.
Here across the Epping Forest District we appear to be surrounded by old trees and consequently it is very easy to take them for granted. We are blessed with the remnants of the great forest of Essex, which now survives as Epping and Hainault Forests. Together these two areas form a collection of veteran trees of European importance. For example, Epping Forest alone has over fifty thousand veteran trees. However, these old trees are by no means confined to the forest areas. The widespread practice of pollarding (the successive cutting of trees above the browsing height of deer and cattle) has left us with a legacy of many old trees across the whole of the district. For me personally these trees always ignite a sense of wonder at their sheer size, staying power and resilience, but are we really paying this great legacy enough attention?
For many years now organisations such as the Tree Council, Woodland Trust and the Ancient Tree Forum have been campaigning for old trees and have done much to raise their profile. These trees are irreplaceable forming as they do a link with our past. For centuries they have been celebrated in art, folklore and legend. They may have stood beside an ancient track way, on a village green or beside an ancient church for centuries. They may have served as a parish boundary marker or as a backdrop to a grand house in a landscaped park. They have also come to symbolise great events in our history, but despite all this our oldest and most important trees still have little if any protection. We are now far more advanced with protecting our built heritage and there would be justifiable outrage at the demolition of a medieval building and yet what about our trees which have reached the same vintage? The normal tree protection measures do not fit and far too often an old trees are seen as dangerous or an inconvenience. Surely these living “green” monuments deserve better.
It is this background that has inspired the Favourite Tree Web Site and with it the Epping Forest Veteran Tree Hunt. At a national level we are working with the Woodland Trust and its Ancient Tree Hunt while locally we are working with Harlow Council and coordinating volunteers to help us search and record all our old trees. By recording this great tree legacy across the district and demonstrating their worth we know we can protect them better. It is a huge task, but hopefully it is one that you may be inspired to join us in.
Countryside Manager, Epping Forest District Council June 2007