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I promise to ditch this URL in favour of a .blog to reflect what it is – my ramblings. Why I even make it public is another matter. Ever since I started blogging in 1999 all I ever wanted was a ‘mind dump’, somewhere to gather thoughts, express ideas and set down in one place stuff that I would then be able to readily find at a later date. Thus the tags and categories. Thus the eclectic nature of it. But remember, I am ADHD. Or was. Or still am. Depending on if I pay for a diagnosis or turn to the NHS! Or whether I am seeking medical advice in the UK or the US.
I thrive on it – most of the time. For the rest there is CBD.
I have promised a friend to make a start blogging about my activity on social media – on Twitter in particular. I used to be very content dependent – as if I could be a one-man publishing industry with Tweets at the ready, several a day, ready to fly, retweet and regurgitate every year. Now that I am reaching out to a global community of Greens I find I am more likely to be seeking out the content produced by others, identifying themes, sharing, liking, commenting … and retweeting with comments.
The outcomes are in the stats: not simply followers/following all the rest of it from Twitter Analytics: shares, likes, links and so on.
Ultimately, with Greens it has to be about influencing change, increasing membership, developing activities, nudging policy and … raising funds. Not surprising that big business and those in it are least likely to push funds our way, so I rather think we need to be attracting the wealthy philanthropist with a hankering for nature conservation and saving the planet and all the things in it: plants, animals and people. I am ready to be corrected. I would hope renewables as they take over from fossil fuels, if not an offshoot of the oil/gas industry, would wish to back us.
Meanwhile, I’ll get back to my trees, shrubs, life drawing and swim lesson plans. Trees are shedding leaves early to save water I have notices, shrubs are doing the same. My fern is dead, along with a 15 year old beech I replanted early this year and failed to water thoroughly these last few months – and the mint has died. The succulents are thriving, as is the ivy and brambles. I encourage both.
Life Drawing is on next week. I should ‘get my hand in’ a bit over the next few days reworking previous drawings and drawing anyone who will sit for me.
As for swimming? The club has a handful of elite performance swimmers at the Nationals. We’ve had several in finals, a gold and a few bronze medals too. Did I teach them seven or eight years ago when they first joined the club? Most likely. I have coached them the odd session while covering for the Head Coach. The amount of work they have to put in is quite extraordinary, truly superhuman (and the time parents need to dedicate to their elite athlete too getting them to training and galas).
Onwards. The day is young.
I can’t find much written about so called ‘companion trees’ in the world. We marvel at some of the contorted shapes trunks create as they appear to bounce off each other and imagine the relationship is symbiotic: I’ve come to believe that this is not the case. Whilst horticulturalists and gardeners may speak of ‘companion’ planting, this is not the same as two or more trees or shrubs competing in the wild for light, water, nutrients and a footing.
Visiting Markstakes Common often over the last few months I have come to know the area reasonably well and with the aid of a map created by the Friends of Markstakes Common in 2011 I can pick up some, though certainly not all of the 34 ancient trees one or two of which have notable companions.
It would appear that dominant tree survives, more often birch over everything else, with oak and hornbeam in a close second place, followed by birch while holly, though often abundant, becomes leggy or where there is little light simply dies away. To my eyes birch trumps all others, though it depends clearly on which tree gets a 10 or 25 year head start. It is also clear that where both trees are able to survive their ‘companionship’ my last many decades. Of course in depends very much on the context as to which tree may weaken and fail.
For example, this birch and oak, both of which continue to thrive – although the holly tree identified in 2011 has clearly died back and since tried to reestablish itself with little success: it is barely a bush.
Around the wood, on closer examination as many as 1/5th of every mature tree shows some element of companion growth at some time. The overwhelming pattern however is that the companions eventually fail … leaving a hollowing, rotting trunk, or breaking off and falling to the ground.
These ‘messy’ companions and the amount of dead wood littering the woodland floor is a feature of a natural deciduous wood. It is litter that in a warming climate must be distinctly vulnerable to fire especially where a visitor is careless or thoughtless.
Markstakes Common : June 2022
I came to Markstakes Common today looking for a noted ‘ancient’ ash which according to the map is hidden away in the north-west corner of the Common close to Furzeley Farm. It took me quite a bit of meandering around as you can see from my AllTrails to find it, not least because there are several other Ash in various stages of growth or decrepitude, with one or many stems in the same area. All no doubt from the original tree?
This 3-stemmed ash had a girth of 302cm in 2010, which to my reckoning makes it around 160 years old.
I turned to the Observer’s Book of Trees (written in 1937, revised in the 1960s and reprinted – my copy, in 1972). The language is redolent of Wilfred Ewart who was writing before the First World War I and used references to the Classics. Here we read that the ash is the ‘Venus of the Woods’ for its ‘grace and strength of a goddess’. I don’t see this myself, not hemmed in my brambles, bracken and nettles and unable to view the tree from the cut lawn a few metres away over the boundary.
I have taken to giving the trees I visit regularly names based on their approximate year of germination. Growing since around 1850, and traditionally female, I was thinking I’d call this Ash ‘Victoria’ (the Queen rather than Beckham) – although Victoria covers a reign of several decades) or perhaps ‘Crystal’ as the Great Exhibition at Crystal Palace opened in 1851. For now ‘Crystal Ash’ it is.
The Observer reminds the reader that a tree’s character is very much down to its context, that hemmed in by a forest a tree is significantly different to one growing in an open meadow or hedgerow. Weather has an impact too, through its history, notably the significant storm of October 1987 and the more recent storm of some impact in February 2022 – a tree may lose a branch, be tipped off centre or be felled. We now have climate change to content with too: with hotter dry summers in southern England, and storms that are potentially more powerful with greater rainfall. Trees that were pollarded will have many stems if they have since been left. A tree has an impact on everything around it too, potentially starving out plants of light and nutrients or providing support to a bank with very deep roots.
Ash, according to the Observer ‘was used where iron and steel have long since supplanted it’ (p.95)
As I am still at the start of my journey of recognising and understanding a multitude of trees I take note of its ‘leaflets’, which I read are ‘late to arrive and early to leave’. Initially I thought the ash tree leaves were distinct, only to find there are other quite different trees which might have fewer or more so called ‘leaflets’. This is when the winter tree with is black leaf-buds is so handy. It also explains I’m sure why the Markstakes survey was done in January 2010, not in spring, summer or early autumn.
I am yet to see any of these trees in summer, having started my visits in autumn. I know I need to look out for distinct flowers and in the case of the Ash, the seeds or ‘keys’ with their singed ‘spinners’.
I learned from the Observer that the Ash only produces seeds that germinate in its second year, matures at 40+ years, and has a natural span of 200 years. And a bit of history – they were coppiced to make oars, axes and hammer shafts.
Although I am still new to identifying trees, though I am ably assisted by the ‘Picture This’ App, I am now taking the next step to approximate their age. A quick google gives a variety of approaches, some more technical than others, and those from the US forever having you choose between imperial feet and inches or the far more sensible metric systems. Having started with inches I quickly flip the tape measure around and go with centimeters instead to remove one complexity in the calculation.
The science is self-evident – some trees grow faster than others, and the growing conditions will have an impact too. I am not after an exact age, so looking for a recently sawn down tree of the same type and girth, or sawing down the tree to get at its age or taking a core sample would be taking it too far. And unless in my own garden, against the law.
All I want to be able to do is to take a measurement, do a calculation based on what kind of tree it is and therefore say that this tree is around 50 years old, or 100 years old or 150 years old. That’s about the range, with some closer to the 30 years mark, anything younger a sapling of sorts and anything far older edging towards ‘ancient’. Rather like guessing a person’s age I think you develop an eye for it, certainly around your own parks and walks. Around Lewes there is a lot around the 60 year old, very few old trees and many younger. I’m thinking the oldest trees are likely to be in the cemetery, where ancient yews are often found. And in Southover Grange Gardens which was in private hands 100 years ago and has an old mulberry and equally old beech which I think are at least 300 years old?
I try out my method around Stanley Turner measuring a sweet chestnut here, a field maple there, a sycamore too. The willow that came down a few years ago are surely reaching the 250 years old mark and having been sawn off I could get an exact diameter.
While the field maple that came down a year ago is possibly around 60 years old.
There is a chance that there is someone alive who remembers them being planted – or even planted them. For this I need to approach the Rugby and Cricket Club.
I also head up to Jubilee Gardens and visit Bell Lane.
My calculations remain vague. I put this large beech in Jubilee Gardens off Juggs Lane at 120 to 130 years old. With all of these are await correct.
I’m yet to calculate the age of the trees in Bell Lane Recreation Ground or the older trees in the Railways Land Wildlife Trust Land.
There are days when I visit The Railways Land Wildlife Trust land in the morning and late afternoon without fail – and more often if they have an event on.
Longer walks are now being measured by how long we have been told our dog Evie should be out – 20 minutes, not an hour or more. So we do a short circuit taking a different route each time we return.
A morning walk on the Railway Land with heavy due glistening in the low sun. Capturing the delicacy and brightness of due on the rushes needs something better than the lens in my phone, but who carries around a DSLR anymore?
Lewes Present tells me I am looking at White Poplar here, something I confirm by putting some closer images through the App Picture This and then reading up some notes from The Woodland Trust.
From the Woodland Trust British Trees App
The thing I should look for is this bright, white shininess in the canopy. Knowing that the underside of the leaf is paler than the upper side explains the effect they produce as you walk around the trees from a distance.
The visit ends at Bake Out for a coffee, or later in the day at the John Harvey Tavern for a pint of Harveys.
Lewes has it all. Though some benches along the river bank would be welcome. A project for the Town Council.
East Sussex Dog Friendly Walks
It has taken a month before I have started to double back on my favourite walks; I could have easily gone another 8 weeks exploring the coast, South and North Downs without ever visiting the same place twice but there comes a point when you want the ease of going somewhere familiar. This time I understood where to park, where to set off, where to hang back and how long it would take on different sections of the walk.
Parking could not be easier; the grounds of Buxted Park are, contrary to your expectations, open to the public. I had done a U-turn the first time I had entered through the stone gates by the lodge and parked across the road in Buxted – this time I parked under the trees in the dedicated parking by the St.Mary’s Church. There must surely be days when this is impossible.
I was brought here originally by ‘East Sussex Dog Friendly Pub Walks’ which saw me completing circular routes with Evie earlier in the summer between Plumpton and Ditchling around Arlington Reservoir. Today I am armed with my growing knowledge of trees, an interest in the countryside and history and an eye for a good view.
Organ Music is playing in the Church; I don’t enquire. Entering a place of worship with a dog feels inappropriate and if I tether Evie outside she will bark. I give a passing nod to the War Memorial whose names I plan to research at some stage and head towards the ancient yew and a side gate out of the cemetery into the park. The yew tree is reportedly over 2,000 years old. Whether it is now one tree or several is a moot point as the trunk has opened out into a crown all coming from a common base. My mind is a whirl of inspirations and wonders I had as a boy – a BBC TV drama I recall (or perhaps a book) in which a lad left a sword he had used in the Middle Ages under an oak sapling only to retrieve it many hundreds of years later. My mind dwells on ideas of a rejuvenating immortal who takes sucker, if not life-force, from ancient trees like this – modern graphics having him (or her) by the tree at different stages of its growth.
There were many dog walkers out on our last trip; today there are a handful – families too. Last trip I took close interest in the trees downed in the 16th October 1987 storm. I’m sure Buxted featured with trees flattened like so many chopsticks and all aligned from the south-west. Whilst much of the wood was cleared enough has remained in place to regrow creating peculiar semi-mature hedge-like stands of successive trunks emanating from the fallen tree – I like nature’s capacity to rejuvenate like this.
Today I peg my walk to the oldest trees that I spot, a stand of oaks, a lone park-planted redwood and a couple of beech by the lake.