September 20th, 2016

Once again our student arborist placement is well under way, and this year we’ve been thrilled to receive the generous support from two funders, the Finnis Scott Foundation and the Ernest Cook Trust, which has covered all the costs for one of our placements.

Joe is with us following his studies at Myerscough College, and having been with us for 2 months, he’s definitely getting stuck into the role. We asked him a few questions about his experience so far.

joe2

How’s the placement going so far?

It’s going well – there’s been a really good mix of practical activities and desk-based work. It’s been great as I’ve been able to really tailor the role in terms of getting bits of experience I need. For example, I wanted to get to grips with job-coding, which involves examining trees and determining their health and how much upkeep they need going forward. Mark [Westonbirt’s curator] has been really accommodating in making sure I’ve been able to take on tasks to ensure I gain skills in all areas of tree management. It’s also been good to be around people with so much knowledge. Everyone’s prepared to take the time out and pass on the benefits of their experience.

What’s been the best bit? What have you particularly enjoyed?

Definitely tractor driving, which I hadn’t done before I started at Westonbirt.

Is there one key thing you think you might take from this experience?

A highlight will definitely be being able to look back and see that I’ve been able to influence the landscape.

And what are your future plans?

I’m hoping to go into land management, working for a tree team as an arborist or I might even go freelance as a consultant.

joe-4

Mark, who manages the placement and is Westonbirt Arboretum’s curator, believes fervently that this placement is of huge value both to the arboretum and the students.

The placement is well established and has been running successfully for many years now, and it really benefits both parties. 

The students obviously gain valuable work based experience and not only learn new skills but put existing experience into practice. They always enjoy the chance to use the academic knowledge gained at college or university in a ‘live’ situation, and take a lot back into the final year of study. They always find the chance to work alongside experienced practitioners very beneficial, as our arborists can pass on helpful insight and practical tips on a daily basis. 

We in turn enjoy fresh faces in the team each year, bringing enthusiasm, the latest thinking and an exchange of ideas. It keeps us on our toes, as the students are constantly questioning our methods and reasoning. This regular scrutiny helps us to make sure we are on the right track with our plans and policies in particular.

The opportunities to gain essential experience can be limited, especially for mid-year students, and so we feel it is very important to keep this offer alive. After a year with us undertaking a wide variety of different tasks, students often have a much better idea as to which particular area they would like to specialise in the future too.”

Thanks again to the Finnis Scott Foundation and Ernest Cook Trust for their generous funding. Our student arborist placements run every year and need funding to cover a salary for the student, qualifications & certification, tools & equipment, learning visits to other arboreta, and clothing & personal protection equipment.

If you would like to support the tree team by making a donation, please contact fundraising@fowa.org.uk.

A sad story to share…

September 6th, 2016

Over 450,000 visits are welcomed at Westonbirt each year and the vast majority of people enjoy a wonderful time in a picturesque setting.  Thankfully, problems such as anti-social behaviour or vandalism are extremely rare indeed.  And even more unusual is intentional damage to any of the trees and shrubs within our collection.

However, this was regrettably not the case recently. Our tree team found what strongly appears to be deliberate stripping of bark from the stem of an old Rhododendron, within a handsome group of specimens on Circular Drive.  Sadly the damage didn’t stop there as not only was the bark been stripped from ground level to six feet up, but people’s names and other messages have been carved into the bare stem of this plant.
IMG_1664IMG_1666

We are in the middle of a big project across the Old Arboretum of identifying Rhododendrons and this was one we were interested in as it produces an array of attractive white flowers tinged with pink every year.  Unfortunately this Rhododendron group is also very special to someone, as it is commemorated.

Bark is to a woody plant what skin is to us humans; it performs the essential task of protecting the tissue within. The loss of this amount of bark has resulted in the need to fell the particular stem.

As Curator, it’s hard to understand the motivations for this and I’m sure it’s something that every botanical collection faces as their popularity and appeal grows far and wide.

Whilst I felt it was worth highlighting this as one of challenges we face here at Westonbirt, these incidents are particularly rare and the Rhododendron will, we hope, continue to live happily one stem down.

Mark Ballard

Curator

Carrying out some TLC

September 6th, 2016

The Tree Team are currently working hard between Broad Drive and semi-natural woodland beyond the western side.

This is an area that has needed attention for quite some time as there is a line of young woodland trees, mainly ash and sycamore, that are adversely affecting the growth of our specimen trees.

This section is designated as ‘arboretum’ instead of ‘woodland’ within our long-standing Forest Design Plan, so we have decided to act now, in order to prevent further suppression of the specimen plants.  The problem of suppression is exasperated on this particular side of Broad Drive by some over-mature Leyland cypress, that will at some point in the future be in danger of blowing over if left standing.  They have become very big and tall, and unfortunately block out a great deal of important light.

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So you may hear the sound of chainsaws, as the appearance of this part of Silk Wood changes for the better and this landscape restoration is complete.  I can assure you that the views from Broad Drive will be much improved, and of course as always with any tree removal, we will be looking to plant a few more attractive specimens when the ground has had chance to settle down.

Mark Ballard
Curator

Tree of the Month: September 2016

August 24th, 2016
...with Dendrologist Dan Crowley.

…with Dendrologist Dan Crowley.

What is tree of the month?

Magnolia grandiflora

Magnolia2

Why is it tree of the month?

The evergreen magnolia from the south east United States is fairly often seen growing against walls in this part of the world but in slightly warmer climes it can make an impressive standalone tree.

There are many forms in cultivation with some noted for foliage  but the real treat is the flowers. Appearing in late summer through early autumn, these can be over 20cm across and are creamy white and very nicely scented. Its tendency to flower somewhat intermittently means there is plenty of opportunity to have a good look.

Where can I find it?

Our best specimen grows against a wall of Keepers Cottage, adjacent to Propagation.

Magnolia1

 

Overnight Plant Hunter Challenge

July 29th, 2016

A mouse took a stroll through the deep dark wood
The mouse saw….a group of teenagers unsure of where they stood

July saw the first Westonbirt Overnight Plant Hunter Challenge in which teams of young people from a range of organisations and youth clubs, navigated their way around a four mile course throughout the arboretum.

On the way, they undertook a number of timed tasks, based on plant hunters past and present, and were scored on teamwork, creativity and skill.

Nineteen young people, some with additional needs, took part in the challenge.

At 9pm, the first teams headed off into the trees and throughout the night they walked and walked, and then walked some more (particularly those teams who, at times, were unsure of which direction they were going in or where they were heading to).

They followed in the footsteps of William Lobb and collected sequoia seeds (although we had carelessly dropped ours into a ‘toxic swamp’); lit a fire using natural materials as David Douglas was required to do; made a herbarium as Joseph Banks did on-board the Endeavour; sorted viable seeds from diseased ones; created a new species of tree (using only newspapers) and made their own version of a Holford family portrait.

youth-portrait

At 2.45 am the torch lights of the last team were spotted making their way across the Downs, where they were greeted with cheers, tea and toast before settling down for a night in the Great Oak Hall.

A few short hours later it was time for a barbeque breakfast and prize giving with Brimsham Green Youth Wing the overall winners.

A huge thank you to all the young people who took part and all the Westonbirt staff, volunteers and visiting group leaders who made the event possible.

Karen Price, Community Youth Officer
www.forestry.gov.uk/westonbirt-community

Tree of the Month: August 2016

July 28th, 2016
...with Dendrologist Dan Crowley.

…with Dendrologist Dan Crowley.

What is tree of the month?
Sorbus ‘John Mitchell’

Sorbus'JohnMItchell'
Why is it tree of the month?
Notable for its huge round leaves, this whitebeam, Sorbus ‘John Mitchell’ is a not uncommon sight in cultivation and has its origins here at Westonbirt. It was long considered to be a selection of Sorbus thibetica but is in fact something quite different. One of its parents is likely to be a round-leaved form of our native Sorbus aria and the other is as yet unknown, though is likely of Asian origin. The hybrid first arose here (precise date unknown!) and was named for the first curator of Westonbirt, William John Mitchell.

Sorbus'JohnMItchell'3
Where can I find it?
We currently have two trees in the collection (we are keen to grow more!). Our largest stands close to Mitchell Drive (G25 on the map) and a smaller but equally beautiful tree is located close to another of our famous trees, the Holford pines (Pinus x holfordiana), near Holford Ride (E24).

Sorbus'JohnMItchell'2
Dan Crowley, Dendrologist

Going out with a bang for the final Treefest…

July 5th, 2016

This August will see us present what will be the last year of Treefest here at Westonbirt.

Treefest event
The event has had – in various guises and under various names – a fantastic run of 22 years and we’d like to thank all exhibitors, visitors, volunteers and staff that have contributed to the event over the years and who have helped create so many special memories.

Whilst we have worked hard for Treefest to remain competitive in the August Bank Holiday market, the weather and visitor numbers are very unpredictable and visitor numbers have been, on the whole, declining for the last five years and particularly poor for the last two.

Although the event has always been great fun, with over 100 exhibitors Treefest is a complex and time consuming event to deliver. We are going to refocus the resources used to deliver Treefest on ensuring that we can better highlight the many other activities happening throughout the year and provide better customer service to all our visitors.

Although Treefest will not be replaced by another big Bank Holiday event, we’ll still have all of our walks, family events, seasonal trails and workshops for you to enjoy, along with the festive spectacle of Enchanted Christmas, which continues to increase in popularity.

We know that you may have questions about our decision – after two decades the event is fondly regarded by many of you. If you would like to get more detail on any aspect of our decision or our future plans, contact westonbirt@forestry.gsi.gov.uk and your email will be passed onto the relevant person within the team.

Treefest’s last year will be a celebration of the event and the people who have made it so special. We’ll still have over 100 exhibitors, delicious food and exciting new music along with fabulous woodcarving in the heart of the Old Arboretum, fantastic activities for families and the spectacular TIMBERSPORTS® show from event sponsors, STIHL.

Find out more about the event: www.forestry.gov.uk/westonbirt-treefest

Andrew Smith, Arboretum Director

Tree of the month: July 2016

July 4th, 2016

What is tree of the month?
Stewartia monadelpha

Dan Crowley
Why is it tree of the month?
Stewartia is a member of the tea family, Theaceae, as suggested by the solitary white flowers that appear in summer. S. monadelpha has the smallest flowers in the genus and these are borne in some profusion on branches throughout the crown. The flowers have conspicuous bracteoles which are a useful aid to identification and the tree is also notable for its reddish bark which peels.

Stewartia monadelpha
The genus was named after John Stuart, Earl of Bute (1713-92), though Linnaeus was misled into spelling the generic name ‘Stewartia’ rather than ’Stuartia’ which led to some confusion around which should be used. Though there was widespread use of ‘Stuartia’ in the 19th century, the accepted spelling is Stewartia, as found in modern botanical texts.

Stewartia monadelpha
Where can I find it?
Currently we have just two trees here at Westonbirt. These are both on Circular Drive in the Old Arboretum and enjoying the acidic conditions they are afforded in this area.

Dan Crowley, Dendrologist

Tree of the month: June 2016

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