November 13th, 2017
It’s trustees week – a chance to showcase the work of our trustees. Friends of Westonbirt’s trustees volunteer their time to make important decisions about the charity’s work, contributing their knowledge and skills gained in various industries.


We catch up with our newest trustee Beth.



What made you want to become a trustee with Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum?

When I saw that the charity were looking for new trustees, I thought what a wonderful way to support a charity that I care about. I don’t think many young people (I’m still putting myself in that bracket!) consider that they have the life experience to be a trustee, but if you have a love and a passion for a charity then why not?

You can help give a slightly different dimension to a board. The Friends are working so hard to bring in young families, and to open up the amazing world of trees to them, and I wanted to be a part of that.


What do you do outside of being a trustee?

At the moment I am on maternity leave but I work for the National Trust in outdoor Visitor Experience and so thought that my knowledge of the charity sector could be put to good use for the Friends.


What are you most looking forward to in your trustee role?

Lots of things! I already get all my other mum friends to give me feedback on their experiences when they visit Westonbirt. I hope I can help back the upcoming Westonbirt Wood Project and enthuse others to do likewise. I would also like to help expand membership, explaining to young families the huge benefit their support of the charity will have for their children in the future.

The research that takes place at Westonbirt, and the very fact that Westonbirt exists at all, is so important for the protection of our natural environment! Don’t they say that trees are the organs of our world? Our children need to learn to love trees in order to protect them in the future.

Beth and her son Tom discovering field maple leaves

We’ll shortly be recruiting for new trustees. Keep an eye out on our website if you think you could volunteer your time as trustee and make a meaningful contribution.


Return of the grazers – cattle are coming back to the downs!

November 8th, 2017

In mid-November, a group of Gloucester cattle will be taking up residence on the downland of Westonbirt Arboretum. They will be helping us to create and maintain diverse habitat for wildflowers and insects that make their home on the Downs.


Photo credit: Rare Breeds’ Survival Trust


The steep parts of the Downs here at Westonbirt are a particularly good example of  wildflower rich limestone grassland, and surveys over recent years have shown that they are home to at least 236 different plant species –  around 8.1% of the UK flora! In recent decades, this type of limestone grassland has been in rapid decline across the country; in the 1930’s 40% of the Cotswolds was covered in wildflower rich limestone grassland; today that figure has fallen to 1.5%, a decline which is reflected across the rest of Great Britain.

So why is this grassland disappearing? Well, a large factor is that many herbaceous plant  species found in these habitats , are susceptible to being outcompeted by more aggressive, tall rank species such as cocksfoot grass, docks and thistles.


Historically, these more competitive species have been kept in check and managed in Cotswolds grasslands by a combination of grazing, mowing, and burning. Burning is not an option at Westonbirt, and mowing is both labour intensive and does not produce as diverse a sward as grazing does. Grazing by livestock reduces the dominance of coarse, aggressive species (such as tall oat-grass and dock), which in turn allows less competitive species to establish and thrive. Through the action of their hooves, the animals open up the sward and soil to provide niches where seeds can germinate.



However, not all grazers are suitable for the Westonbirt downland. Sheep, for example, are highly selective grazers, preferring to eat flower-heads and buds of herbaceous plants rather than grass. Horses are also selective, and mainly eat finer species of grass, producing extensive ‘lawns’. Cattle are less selective than sheep or horses; they will eat grass and herbaceous plants equally, and are especially good at removing coarse grasses. The way cattle eat is important too: rather than nibbling with their teeth (as horses and sheep do), they pull clumps of vegetation from the ground with their tongues; this creates a more tussocky sward, and provides small areas of bare soil in which seeds can germinate.


Photo credit: Cotswold Farm Park

There are two other important factors to consider; the number of animals used, and the timing and duration of grazing. Too few cattle, and any beneficial effects will be negligible; too many, and the area will soon become too poached up with large areas of bare soil, which are too disturbed to allow seedlings to establish. In order to ensure that we are getting the number just right, we’ll be closely monitoring the effects of the grazing via vegetation surveys. If needed, we can adjust the numbers and frequency of grazing. Timing-wise, it’s important to stop the grazing when the vegetation starts to flower, then get them back on the ground once most of the species have shed their seeds. Grazers should also be removed if there are signs of excessive ground disturbance during periods of prolonged wet weather.
As long as the cattle are with us, it is important for our visitors to remember that, whilst Gloucester cattle are mostly docile, you should not try to touch or pet them. Whilst dogs do not have to be on the lead near the area where the cattle will be grazing, please ensure that all dogs are kept well under control and to heel when near them.


Watch this space as we share updates on the benefits that the cattle bring to the nationally important habitat of the Westonbirt Downs!


November Tree of the Month

November 1st, 2017

What is tree of the month?

Monterey cypress

Cupressus macrocarpa


Why is it tree of the month?

Restricted in the wild to Monterey County in California, Monterey cypress is well known in cultivation and is one of the most widely planted conifers in the world (Monterey pine, Pinus radiata, from the same area is another). Its original introduction is a little curious, when in 1838 an envelope of seeds turned up on a desk at Kew without explanation. A number of introductions have been made since, including in 2010, when colleagues from Bedgebury collected seeds from which young plants here now grow.

Where can I find it?

Our largest specimen grows along Main Drive. It is also illustrated in Westonbirt Arboretum’s Tree Spotter’s Guide! The young specimens that were collected as seed in 2010, are among the most vigorous trees in the collection and can be found in both the Old Arboretum and Silk Wood. Find the plant using the Westonbirt map.

Have you met the Gruffalo’s friends in the Old Arboretum?

October 9th, 2017

The Gruffalo in the deep dark wood of the Old Arboretum has recently been joined by beautiful sculptures of the mouse, snake, fox, owl and squirrel. Find out more about how they were created in an exciting guest post from their sculptor, David Lucas

My name is David Lucas, and I created the Gruffalo character sculptures for Westonbirt Arboretum, in collaboration with the Forestry Commission and Magic Light Pictures. The Westonbirt sculptures were part of a larger nationwide commission to create 70 Gruffalo characters for 14 different Forestry Commission sites.

The Gruffalo sculpture itself had been created previously by a different sculptor but now it was my job to imagine, create and reunite the Gruffalo with his woodland friends….mouse, snake, owl, fox and squirrel.

The process of creating these sculptures began with the humble pencil as I sketched my designs. Once the designs had been approved then the real fun started as I used my collection of chainsaws to reveal the characters hidden within the large tree stumps. Once carved, the sculptures were then sanded and some of the finer details were added with various electric and hand tools. The final process involved the use of wood stains to give the characters their iconic colouring and to really bring them to life. I still find it amazing how a well-positioned black dot for a pupil can really animate a sculpture and bring out the character within!

Once a set of characters were completed, they were carefully loaded onto a lorry before heading off to their new home.

All the timber that I’ve used to sculpt these characters has come from the Forestry Commission and is therefore sustainably sourced.

It was an absolute pleasure to be able to create these sculptures for Westonbirt and I hope they will be enjoyed for many years to come by young and old alike. I look forward to seeing your photos on the Westonbirt Facebook page and next time you explore the deep dark wood then please give the sculptures a little cuddle from me.

Watch this space for time lapse videos of their creation on my YouTube channel….coming soon!

See the Gruffalo and his friends in our new Gruffalo Wood in the Old Arboretum at Westonbirt.

October Tree of the Month

October 4th, 2017



What is Tree of the Month?

Bitter ash

Picrasma quassioides

Why is it Tree of the Month?

Related to the tree of heaven, Ailanthus altissima, the bitter ash is slightly better behaved, as it doesn’t appear to sucker; whereas the tree of heaven most definitely does!

Attaining only modest stature, it is a fantastic autumn sight as the leaves turn an excellent yellow, contrasting nicely with the fruit that at this time of year are red, turning almost black. It really is a cracking little tree!

Where can I find it?

Examples are dotted around the collected, with a notable group of 3 close to Ted’s Fright in Silk Wood.

Find the plant using the Westonbirt map.

Community Shingle Shelter

September 21st, 2017

With the current phase of the HLF community programme at Westonbirt drawing to a close at the end of the year, Wild Westonbirt (Westonbirt’s youth group) were tasked with thinking of a way to celebrate. Delivered over a four year period, and engaging over four thousand participants, they wanted something that would achieve a number of goals:

  • Reflect both this achievement and the green woodworking skills they had gained
  • Involve the people who attended the community programme in its creation
  • Be a beautiful work of art in itself

Drawing on inspiration from some of their overnight camps at the arboretum, the group proposed the idea of a shelter, which would be made out of wooden roof tiles known shingles. These shingles would be made by hand, using traditional tools, by participants. Participants would then decorate their own shingle to represent their involvement with the programme.

Cutting a wind blown oak

This proposal also meant that those community groups we have been working with offsite, through the outreach programme, could also be involved, as the shingles were small enough to take out to care and residential homes.

The initial plan was to create four thousand shingles to build the shelter, one for each of the four thousand people who had participated in the community programmes. However, quite soon into the production, we realised this would be almost enough to roof a house, and decided four hundred would be sufficient – particularly given an initial production rate of one an hour!

Guided by our resident coppicers, participants, volunteers, staff and even members of the public, have cut, split and shaped over 170kg of oak (the weight of 3 ½ teenagers). A record 150 were made at the Arb Show in May where Wild Westonbirt worked tirelessly instructing visitors in the art of shingle making.

As new groups joined the community programmes, and as the pile of shingles grew so did the participants’ confidence, pride, and sense of achievement and belonging to something special; young people had the opportunity to teach adults, and group members instructed their support workers.

At long last, over the August Bank Holiday, the Wild Westonbirt team completed shingle number 400.

The next phase is to start the actual construction itself. This will take place over the weekend 23rd – 25th September and be built on the Silkwood Autumn Trail route by Teds Fright. So, if you are out enjoying the autumn colour, please do stop and say hello.

September Tree of the Month

September 12th, 2017

What is it?

Euonymus oxyphyllus 

Why is it Tree of the Month?

A sign that autumn is well on the way is the fantastic colour of this spindle from east Asia. As well as having deep red foliage, the richly coloured fruit is most attractive. Introduced in 1895, examples at Westonbirt have long been renowned as some of the best for their seasonal colour.

Where is it?

The mighty fine group at the end of Morley Ride is an early autumn showstopper. Other specimens of this and other notable Euonymus species are dotted around the collection.

August Tree of the Month

August 1st, 2017

What is Tree of the Month?

Aralia elata – Japanese Angelica Tree

Japanese Angelica Tree

Why is it Tree of the Month?

Also known as ‘Devil’s Walking Stick’, for its viciously spiny bark.

Walking stick’ is particularly apt for our two trees on Main Drive (19.0446), as they have literally moved! The original plant was growing a few yards from where the two are now and was removed some years ago, having rotted at the base. Soon after, two suckers from the original plant emerged and have been growing well ever since! They have some of the biggest leaves in the collection, which are twice pinnate and sometimes over a metre long. The ivy-like inflorescences are absolutely loved by insects.

Japanese Angelica Tree

Where can I find it?

As well as our walking plant, young examples collected in Japan in 2011 are growing well close to Loop Walk in the Old Arboretum. We hope they will continue to move up rather than elsewhere! Find the plant using the Westonbirt map.


July Tree of the Month

June 30th, 2017


What is tree of the month?

Chinese yellowwood

Cladrastis sinensis     

Why is it tree of the month?        

The Chinese yellowwood in flower is as beautiful a summer sight as any. The pinky-white flowers, held in panicles, appear in late July, complementing the attractive pinnate leaves that emerge incredibly late.

The species was introduced from China by Ernest Wilson in 1901 and is one of many genera that are represented in both eastern Asia and eastern North America.

Where can I find it?

Our largest tree grows on Holford Ride in the Old Arboretum (06.0038), with younger trees grown from seed of this tree are found in 2050 Glade close to Loop Walk (04.1199; 04.1210). Find the plant using the Westonbirt map.


June Tree of the Month

June 5th, 2017

What is tree of the month?

Tulip Tree – Liriodendron tulipifera

Why is it tree of the month?

The short-lived, tulip-like flowers are always worth seeking out in Summer. Greenish-yellow in colour, they are not always the easiest to spot against the leaves as they are often held high up in the crown. The only other member of the Magnolia family (Magnoliaceae) aside from Magnolia, the genus is considered to be primitive and contains only one other species, the Chinese tulip tree, Liriodendron chinense. A hybrid of the two also exists.

A specimen with flowers at eye level grows on the Downs restoration site, close to the restaurant (29.0246). The species is also a component of Jackson Avenue in the Old Arboretum. Young, wild sourced trees that are yet to flower are dotted throughout the collection.

Where can I find it?

Two examples of the Chinese tulip tree can be seen at Westonbirt. One, close to Loop Walk (08.0398) and a young, recently planted individual close to Mitchell Drive (09.0742). A sole hybrid grows vigorously on Broad Drive (56.0664). The occasional flower can be spotted high up! Find the plant using the Westonbirt map.