Mighty Sir Hugh

During the Woodland Edge event we set a challenge on this blogsite to guess the girth of one of the sentinel oak trees that framed the conference venue. These veteran trees added to nature’s own vibes we felt at the gathering within the woodland setting, against which the conference was perched. The particular tree we measured was named Sir Hugh. 43.75% of you thought Sir Hugh was 20 feet and 2 inches wide. We can now announce that he totals an impressive 18 feet 8 inches (that’s 5.69m in new currency), so well done if you were one of the people who guessed that amongst the choices that we offered in the vote.

According to Gavin Saunders, a survey was carried out in 2006 of the Medusa-like veteran trees in the Neroche area. It found that 75% of veteran trees of all species were below 4.5m girth/circumference (14 feet 9 inches), 5% were more than 6m, and the largest of all (about a mile from the conference site) was 10.2mm, which is mega-sized even for veteran oaks. For context, the Major Oak in Sherwood Forest is 10.4m (see photo below). Since the Victorian era the massive limbs of the Major Oak have been supported by an elaborate system of scaffolding.

We’ve previously mentioned the special forces of these trees, and Gordon the Dowser (see top pic) even marked the extent of their energy field in the forest. There is no doubt that many participants felt the presence of these forest guardians in various ways. Most specifically, Gordon sensed that the trees wanted their tangled understorey to be cleared. Some of the volunteers set about this task for the three particular trees who had communicated this plea, and Gordon felt their wishes had been honoured. The subject of veteran trees leads us to a world where ecology, history, folklore and much more fuse together. As a starter for further reading why not try the Forestry Commission guide on the subject…  and this manual which you can use to estimate their age.

We also had a quick look on the web beyond the UK to gain an international comparison. The widest tree in the world is the Sunland Baobab in South Africa and is located on Sunland Farm near Modjadjiskloof, Limpopo Province. This Baobab is quite renowned because in its hollowed trunk some locals have established a bar and a wine cellar which can apparently hold up to 60 people! The Baobab tree has been carbon dated and is estimated to be around 6000 years old, which would make it one of the oldest trees in the world. The circumference of the Sundland Baobab trunk is a massive 33.4 metres.

COMING SOON on this blog we’ll have feedback from the Woodland Edge workshops

– James


The ancient tree trunk – what does it measure?

Scattered amongst the neighbouring forest at the woodland edge conference venue are a number of veteran oaks. These ancient trees are prominent guardians of this piece of the forest, indicating one of its past uses as wood pasture and deer park. The age of the oaks is measured in terms of centuries. Gordon the tree dowser believe’s the one shown here is perhaps 586 years old, as the tree’s conference label declares.

Many people will look for faces, characters and other features in trees young and old, but these old oaks seem especially charismatic. Perhaps the trees have enjoyed all the special attention they’ve received over the last few days, including being illuminated at night by colourful spotlights. Some of these mighty oaks have earned their own name. Although they are often thought as looking feminine in form, they have male titles as a rule, such as Sir William, who will feature in a later blog.

The 586 year old tree shown in these pictures, named by the locals as Sir Hugh, was measured during the conference to satisfy curiosity about the tree’s impressive girth.

It took two of us to measure the trunk! I invite you to guess the result – tell us what you think by using the options below…

This is just for fun so take your pick and look out for the answer next week.

– Rick

Houston. Do you read me?

After a 400mile car trip, three slightly more enjoyable train journeys and a few stops at some relatives along the way, I’ve arrived at the Woodland Edge. Setting up my blogstation earlier on it was a bitter-sweet feeling of relief when I plugged in my dongle wireless device and discovered I was still connected to the world-wide-web somehow… I was kind of hoping the thing would fail on me so I could make the most of this unusually brilliant English weather, but there was no such luck today. According to this 3G coverage map below, the only place I’m likely to escape internet access is in the deepest darkest forest.

So here I am in Somerset, shacked up in my own little tepee, blogging away into the ether with a nice pint of local ale sitting by my side. Having moved into my new home for the next few days I’ve already made a new friend – it’s a daddy longlegs, and it’s taken quite a liking to the white glow currently emanating from my laptop. I’m hoping it doesn’t attract anything scarier than that though cos I’m possibly the last up by now. Fortunately however, a local volunteer has constructed a wooden sign to go outside my makeshift office which reads “BLOGGER’S TENT”. If that doesn’t warn the Exmoor Beast off I’m not sure what will.

You can see some of the goings on from Neroche Forest today in the slideshow I have put together here. I’ve already met many interesting characters, but Gordon the tree-dowser stands out as a definite highlight. I’m not sure what he’s been up to exactly, but the trees tonight are now glowing a variety of different colours and beyond them the stars out in force. I just came back from the campfire where most of the new conference arrivals have retired for the evening, having been treated to a fairly hefty dinner and some freshly roasted chestnuts. It seems things will kick off early tomorrow so with limited shower water available I should probably get to bed.

– James


Preparations for the conference are well underway now, and there’s a real buzz developing as the event draws near.  The site is being prepared, with paths being mown amongst the high wood sedge in the magical woodland where much of the conference will take place.

The conference site is on the edge of a 150 hectare expanse of Forestry Commission mixed woodland, some of it ancient, some plantation, and some open space (the latter being grazed at present by the Neroche herd of longhorn cattle).

There is a grove of huge veteran oaks on the site, remnants of a medievaldeer park, and these immense trees are looking down on the proceedings and offering a great atmosphere for the event.  A local tree dowser has visited the oaks and dowsed them to find out if they’re happy with the event taking place – thankfully, it seems, they are!

We have three fire pits taking shape in the woodland, one central one which will be the focus for the evening activities, and two smaller ones which will provide venues for some of the workshop discussions – weather permitting!  The main covered space for the event, which will be brought onto the site very soon, includes a huge three-domed Kata tent, like a triple tipi; a circus big top; and a large yurt.

From the woodland edge, the view south up towards the Blackdown Hills scarp is fantastic, and the whole location is quiet, a long way from roads or settlements, and feels very special. A band of volunteers will be invading that solitude over the next two weeks as the preparations continue, but we will be careful to hold on to the very special atmosphere we have here – because that is what will give this event its most important ingredient.

– Gavin