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Life and death of ancient Oaks

Russ writes:

At the weekend I managed to measure another couple of ancient trees, both Oaks, but with very contrasting fortunes. The first was located adjacent to the flooded Highland Water, between Bolderford Bridge and Queen Bower. Fortunately, I had wellies on, as some wading was required to measure the girth, which came out at 6.9m. This is an increase from 6.5m about 20 years ago, as published in the Read (1999) inventory of New Forest ancient trees. The trunk was covered with epiphytic polypody ferns, which thrive in damp, humid environments. After trying a few profile shots, which didn’t really do it justice, I settled for a more artistic view looking up the trunk, which caught the light nicely!

Later that day, I located another ancient Oak at Philip’s Hill near Lyndhurst. However, as I approached it was clear that this specimen was not in good shape, with the main portion of the tree having come down in two parts. This is the first of the ancient trees that I’ve checked that has come down, and it was quite sobering to see its shattered remnants. I initially assumed it was a victim of the recent storms, but one fallen limb appeared to be quite old, while the upper branches of the newer fallen limb still held last year’s leaves. Also, the parallel alignment of crust fungus on the fallen branches suggested it had grown after the tree had come down, so my best guess was that this limb had fallen last autumn. A few large branches continue to emanate from the trunk, and an intertwined Holly remains largely intact, so there may be some life in it yet! But the measured girth at 6.15m will be the largest size that this particular tree attains.

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