May 31st, 2016

Dan Crowley, Westonbirt's dendrologist
What is tree of the month?
Aesculus indica (Indian horse chestnut)

Indian chestnut - whole tree
Why is it tree of the month?
The Indian horse chestnut is notable for both its bronze new foliage (see the whole tree photo!) and flowers in panicles that provide an arboreal highlight as we move in to the summer months. The leaves turn a glossy green and the showy flowers usually appear in June to July and look as though they won’t too far away this year! In maturity the bark peels in long strips.

Indian horse chestnut - leaves and flower headsIndian horse chestnut - bark
The species is native of the north west Himalaya and was introduced in 1851. It is seen far less frequently in the UK than its European relative, Aesculus hippocastanum, and its later flowering time than this species is an added attraction.

Where can I find it?
Our largest example can be found on Loop Walk in the Old Arboretum and an equally interesting example of multi-stemmed habit is found close to the relatively new path which links Mitchell Drive and Main Drive in the Old Arboretum.

Dan Crowley, Dendrologist

Still plenty of work to be done!

May 4th, 2016

The opening ceremony for Phase Two may have now been and gone, but there is still plenty of ongoing work for the Westonbirt Project.

Those of you who are regular followers of the blog will remember that Phase One has numerous ongoing activities supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund. Aside from the community work, Downs restoration and various site-wide interpretation, the HLF are also supporting a large amount of boundary restoration.

Existing wall around the Downs awaiting restoration.

The next boundary that we are restoring is the dry stone Ha-Ha wall with iron railings that runs around the Downs. Ha-Ha walls are put in place to provide an uninterrupted view whilst creating a vertical barrier often to help contain livestock as this particular wall was originally. The name “Ha-Ha” derives from the unexpected (i.e., amusing) moment of discovery when, on approach, the vertical drop suddenly becomes visible. Fortunately, due to the iron railings attached to the Downs Ha-Ha, the drop is not quite as hidden!

The restoration process has now begun with the removal of the iron railings, and these will all be restored while our dry stone waller takes the lead and takes the wall down stone by stone, before building it back up to its former glory. The iron railings will then be reinstalled using an onsite forge.

Volunteers helping with the restoration of the ha-ha near Mitchell Drive.

The dry stone waller will be aided throughout by a number of our volunteers, who will be able to learn this specialised skill. At approx. 625 metres they will have plenty of practice, and the restoration process is expected to take around four months.

As the wall runs so close to the Dew pond which inhabits Great Crested Newts, and newts love dry stone walls, e.g. for hibernation, plans have been put into place to keep them from harm, and a newt license has been granted by Natural England for the works. We aim to coincide the works closest to the pond with the time at which the newts are most likely to be in the water.

Finished wall and railings along Mitchell Drive.

For those of you visiting the site soon, you will be able to see this all unfolding, and if you look along Mitchell Drive, you will see a boundary of the same style which we previously restored in 2012.

Dan Reid, Project Support Officer

A great big THANK YOU!

April 29th, 2016

On Tuesday 26 April 2016, Westonbirt Arboretum hosted an event to celebrate the completion of phase two of the Westonbirt Project and to thank the many people who made it possible.

Over 300 donors and supporters attended and saw the STIHL Treetop Walkway opened by BBC Countryfile‘s Ellie Harrison, before enjoying lunch at the newly completed Wolfson Tree Management Centre.

Donors gather to celebrate the completion of phase two of the Westonbirt Project.
The crowds gather.

Ellie Harrison addresses the crowd, watched by guests, Stephen Segar (Chair of the Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum), Paul Cody (Head of Visitor Attraction) and Andrew Smith (Arboretum Director).
Ellie Harrison addresses guests.

Ellie Harrison cuts the ribbon to open the STIHL Treetop Walkway
Ellie Harrison cutting the ribbon and opening the STIHL Treetop Walkway.

The first donors make their way across the STIHL Treetop Walkway
The first guests take to the walkway.

The completion of the Westonbirt Project capital developments was made possible by a vast amount of support from many, many people. We thank you all!

All images: Matt Tween

Tree of the month: May 2016

April 29th, 2016

What is tree of the month?
Abies delavayi

Abies delavayi - female cone

Why is it tree of the month?
Delavay’s fir, named for the French missionary P.J.M. Delavay who collected plants in China in the late 1800s, is a species found at high elevations in southwest China and neighbouring regions. One of a number of Abies species that have blue cones, they are particularly noticeable just now. Abies species tend to produce cones towards the top of the tree and not all do so when young, but one of our plants, planted in 2002 has been doing so for the last few years. What is more, many of the are on low branches making them ideal for a closer look, or the odd photograph!

Dendrologist Dan Crowley admiring Abies delavayi

Where can I find it?
This particular specimen (17.0253) is found between Mitchell Drive and Main Drive, close to the boundary with the Downs. Another, from the same seed source, grows along Broad Drive, though doesn’t form cones so reliably.

Abies delavayi - whole tree

Dan Crowley, Dendrologist

Tree of the month: April 2016

April 1st, 2016

What is tree of the month?
Acer hyrcanum

Why is it tree of the month?
Described in the Hillier Manual of Trees and Shrubs as a small tree. Our specimens in Silk Wood are slightly larger than this. As early plantings in this part of the arboretum, our two largest trees have stood the test of time and continue to look the part. They flower wonderfully in April and are not far off just now! Emerging just before or with the leaves, the entire crown is adorned with the goodness of spring. A beautiful sight!

The species is native to the Balkan peninsula, the Caucasus and parts of Western Asia. Like many species from this part of the world, it is quite happy at Westonbirt! It is closely related to the more commonly seen sycamore, Acer pseudoplatanus, but is far more showy in spring. It is believed to have been in cultivation since 1865.

Where can I find it?
Our two largest trees are in Silk Wood and can’t be missed along Willesley Drive and Broad Drive. Close relatives of the species can be found throughout the site, as part of the Plant Heritage National Collection of Acer.

Dan Crowley, Dendrologist

Pizza in the Woods!

March 24th, 2016

The community team welcome a wide range of groups from the surrounding area to come and learn about our tree collection through exploration and discovery. Some of our work is up in the coppice in Silk Wood, where we teach woodland management skills including coppicing and green wood craft, amongst other activities.

A big part of bringing groups here is so they can have the opportunity to work with their peers, learn self-resilience, and develop their self- confidence. We have found one of the best ways to get people to relax, work together as a team and have fun is to pull together to make a meal out in the woods. In all cultures around the world, food is at the heart of the community – and what better way to practice safe fire lighting and culinary skills in our very own cob oven?!

In March, we brought together our community groups here at the arboretum, to help build a cob oven at their woodland base in Silk Wood. Working alongside Nico from Red Kite Design, participants from Royal Wotton Basset Academy, Nelson Trust, Wild Westonbirt and Stonehouse Youth Council were part of the whole building process; mixing cob ( a mixture of clay, sand and straw), learning about the construction of a cob oven through hands on experience, adding final decorations and making dough before firing up the oven to create the first meal: pizzas! There was even time to have a go at making clay pinch pots and coil pots which are drying out before we try firing them in the oven at a later date.

We were wonderfully supported by members of the community volunteer team and a huge thank you to the estate volunteers who constructed the wooden base for us.

This oven will be used frequently throughout the year to help teach community groups about other food that can be cooked (and foraged) out in the woods without gas or electricity and of course fuel volunteer work parties! It will also be a great addition to our group overnight stays who get to experience Westonbirt at night. Who doesn’t like freshly baked bread in the morning?

Feel free to wander in and take a look!

Karen Price & Claire Goulding, Community Officers

STIHL Treetop Walkway: an update

March 23rd, 2016

We are getting very close to completion of the walkway, not too long to wait now! Before we open the walkway there are a few more finishing touches we need to install.

Outside Studios, our interpretation designers, have started installing the interpretation and will continue to be here for the next few weeks.

A large delivery of interpretation, unpacked ready for assembly.
A large delivery of interpretation has arrived and has been unpacked ready for assembly. The interpretation has been designed to clamp on to the handrail and the balustrade.

Interpretation being clamped to the balustrade of the walkway.Metal frames for graphics panels being clamped to the handrail.
The first few metal frames are ready for the graphics to be installed and have been clamped to the handrail.

A bench on the Treetop Walkway
The two benches are in position and look beautiful! This bench is the first you come to and is a great place to sit in the afternoon sun. You can see four steel uprights in this photo. They will be hidden from view and will support two large panels featuring quiz questions and activities. In the background you can see one of our favourite trees, an Atlas cedar.

The second bench is situated at the base of the crows nest stairs.

The steep staircase to the crows nest.
This is the staircase to the crows nest. Outside Studios have installed a poem up the stairs as well as telescopes at the top of the crows nest which you can peer out of into the surrounding trees.

The black pine which is surrounded by the crows nest platform.
This is the Black pine which is surrounded by the crows nest platform. The platform bounces as it cantilevers from its two supporting timber legs, the bounce is even more exciting when it’s windy and you can see the tree moving! We are hoping the gap between the platform and the Black pine will be filled with a net before we open the walkway, fingers crossed!

Sophie Nash, Project Manager

Inside the Machinery Store with architect Piers Taylor

March 1st, 2016

Work on the new Wolfson Tree Management Centre is nearing completion. The new facility will provide all that Westonbirt’s expert tree team needs to manage the tree collection.

Here, its architect, Piers Taylor of Invisible Studio shares some stunning images of the interior of the machinery store element, which has now been handed over to the tree team.

Inside the new machinery storeInside the new machinery storeInside the new machinery store

Tree of the month: March 2016

March 1st, 2016

What is tree of the month?
Quercus canariensis (Algerian Oak)

Why is it tree of the month?
Described by W.J Bean as ‘one of the handsomest of all oaks’, Quercus canariensis stands out in a crowd, and particularly at this time of the year. Being semi-evergreen it retains its leaves through winter, sometimes even up until fresh ones emerge in spring.

Though specific epithets often give an indication of origin, this is not the case with Quercus canariensis, as it is native to North Africa and the Iberian peninsula, and not the Canary Islands! In cultivation in Britain since at least 1845, our oldest specimen is one of the original plantings along Broad Drive, dating from around 1875. It grows in what was known as the European Oak Collection, alongside a number of other Quercus from this part of the world.

Variable in appearance the wild, our largest trees are considered to be the ‘English form’. That is to say they are of the typical appearance of trees encountered in cultivation in this country, which (as with many species grown in gardens) is not representative of the species in the wild. Younger trees in the collection are from known wild origin in Spain – observe the differences for yourselves!!

Where can I find it?
The largest example in Silk Wood is along Broad Drive (see above, it is also part of the TreeQuests app so you may encounter it if you take a trail using that!) and in the Old Arboretum is close to the north end of Holford Ride and Loop Walk. Younger, wild origin examples can be seen close to Waste Gate, in 2050 Glade. You can find them all on the interactive map.

Dan Crowley, Dendrologist

The Wolfson Tree Management Centre: a glimpse inside the new mess building

February 18th, 2016

Work is currently underway on what will become the new Wolfson Tree Management Centre. The new facility will provide all that Westonbirt’s expert tree team needs to manage the tree collection.

Work is now taking place to complete the interior of the Tree Team’s new mess building.

Porch
The entrance to the building is covered by a substantial overhang, which acts as a big porch as you enter and exit the building.

Polycarbonate wall
Inside, one of the most striking features is the polycarbonate end wall – this lets lots of diffused daylight into the main space which the team will use for tea breaks and meetings.

Plywood ceiling
The ceiling of the building is plywood sheeting – this is soon to be varnished, and the lights installed where you currently see dangling cables.

Kitchen
The heart of any mess room is the kitchen. It’s nearly finished and the worktops will be installed in the next few weeks! Look closely and you’ll see that the taps above the sink are made of copper piping with stop taps… a simple solution and alternative to off-the-peg kitchen fittings.

Kitchen
The kitchen will be an area for food preparation (the fuel essential for a busy arborist!) and a washing machine where kit and ropes will be washed to improve their condition.

Sophie Nash, Project Manager