Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Where would we be without trustees?

Monday, 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!

Wednesday, 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!


August Tree of the Month

Tuesday, 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.


‘Ain’t Got Time to fix the shingles, Ain’t got time to fix the floor…..’ our Community Youth Officer, Karen Price, shares one of her recent projects

Tuesday, May 16th, 2017

Team WB have been busy this month learning how to make wooden roof tiles, known as shingles, for a proposed sculpture to celebrate the culmination of the 4 year HLF Community Engagement Programme.  Working under the specialist instruction of Brian Williamson, who leads on the coppicing in Silk Wood, young people and volunteers  took on the task of cutting a section of trunk from a fallen oak, splitting it into ever smaller workable segments and then shaping them into the finished product using a ‘shave horse’.

The cutting and splitting of shingles was incredible hard work, with young people working constantly throughout the day, stopping only for pizza and cake.

Members of Team WB and Wild Westonbirt were also at the ARB show last weekend, demonstrating their shingle making skills and encouraging visitors to have a go!

We estimate that we will need a total of 400 for the sculpture.   Over 200 have been made to date!


Update on Vietnam Trip

Monday, May 8th, 2017

Having returned from Vietnam a short while ago, I’ve had a little time to reflect on and recall some highlights of what was an amazing and most fascinating trip. I was fortunate enough to be travelling with an incredibly knowledgeable, experienced team from the western world as well as premier botanists from the Institute of Biological Resources in Hanoi (IEBR).

Our field work was focussed on two areas. Our first excursion was a 4 day epic trek over the part of the massif known as Five Fingers. Our team (at this point), made up of Douglas Justice, Andy Hill (both University of British Columbia), Dan Hinkley (Heronswood, US), Nguyen Van Du, Bui Hong Quang, Master’s students Bing and Sung (All IEBR) and I were accompanied by a band of porters, without whom none of what we achieved would have been possible. Carrying the bulk of our gear, tents, food supplies and associated bits and pieces needed for the duration of our trek they’d set off behind us and end up a long way in front (though they weren’t stopping to collect and study plants along the way). By the time we hit the campsite at the end of each day, our tents were up, the kettle was hot and dinner was near enough ready. We felt slightly spoilt as our food was brought over to us, as we perched on our chosen rock or log. How they could make perfect rice over a fire, I’ll never know.

The amazing porters who carried our kit and cooked our meals

Our trip to Five Fingers had been much discussed as this area was something of an enigma, having been little explored by western botanists. We were believed to be the first to have tackled the particular trail we negotiated and it was replete with floral treats at every turn.

Top of the agenda for Douglas and I were maple species and the first we came across was Acer sterculiaceum subsp. sterculiaceum. Part of a complex group, this taxon was not known from Vietnam and our find represents a significant extension of its known range. We studied plenty of other maples along the way, many in flower, including examples of Acer laevigatum, A. campbellii and A. sikkimense. Our observations will help us to make valuable contributions to the knowledge of these plants.

Acer sterculiaceum subsp. sterculiaceum

A non-maple highlight on Five Fingers for me was seeing Rhoiptelea chiliantha. Allied to the walnuts, only one plant is known in cultivation and that is here at Westonbirt, though not doing particularly well. So you can imagine my delight to see that it was in seed!! Though were a little early for it to be ripe and reports that it is difficult to germinate, I stand by what I said at the time: “If anyone can, Penny can’.  No pressure, Penny!

The four days somewhat blurred into one with near endless ups and downs on sometimes challenging terrain. Coming off the mountain on the fourth day brought about a feeling of huge satisfaction with the plants we had seen and the ground we had covered. We had also had tremendous fortune with the weather, with it raining only once on the first evening. Following as successful first leg of the expedition, we returned happily to civilisation for a well earned shower!

Looking back at Five Fingers from where we had just trekked

April Tree of the Month

Thursday, April 6th, 2017

What is tree of the month?

Amelanchier asiatica

Tree of the month

Why is it tree of the month

One of the joys of spring is Amelanchier asiatica, a small tree that flowers beautifully. It is native to parts of China, Korea and Japan. Our sole specimen was grown from seed collected in the latter and was planted here in 1995.

Where can I find it?

You can find it on Main Drive in the Old Arboretum. Tree #16.0453. Find the plant using the Westonbirt map.

Rare Magnolia maudiae subsp, aprilis-stultus discovered at Westonbirt Arboretum

Saturday, April 1st, 2017

At Westonbirt Arboretum we care for many rare and remarkable trees, and we are thrilled to announce that early this morning one of our Magnolia maudiae was discovered to be the incredibly rare Magnolia maudiae subsp. aprilis-stultus. This subspecies is distinctive because once it reaches maturity, for a few weeks in early spring its leaves lose their green colouring, and take on a variety of vibrant colours.
Magnolia maudiae is normally an evergreen tree, however, earlier this year the beautiful silver green leaves on one of our magnolias began to lose their green colour, and an astonishing variety of reds, pinks, purples, oranges and even blues appeared. This morning our collections team confirmed that what we had initially thought to be a normal Magnolia maudiae, was in fact a rare subspecies, Magnolia maudiae subsp. aprilis-stultus.
There are only a few hundred examples of this tree known to grow across the globe, the vast majority of which are to be found in China; so naturally we are very excited to have one growing here at Westonbirt!
Due to the rarity of this tree, and the fact that the vibrant colours show for a very short space of time, there are very few opportunities to study the extraordinary leaves. We will take this opportunity to learn as much as we can about the tree and to share our findings with our visitors.
The tree has now been cordoned off for study by our collections team, but visitors will soon be able to see it for themselves and discover more about this amazing magnolia. More information will be released shortly, so watch this space for further details!

Uncovering Acers in Vietnam

Monday, March 27th, 2017

In early April 2017, Westonbirt’s Dendrologist, Dan Crowley, will be setting out on an exciting documenting expedition to Vietnam, thanks to funding from the Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum. Together with colleagues from the University of British Columbia Botanical Garden (UBC) and the Institute of Ecology and Biological Resources, Dan will be exploring the Hoang Lien Son Mountains, Sapa Province in northern Vietnam, and working to document the Acer species in the area.

About Hong Lien Son National Park

Vietnam as a whole is an area of extraordinary biodiversity (though until recently it has been little explored by plants experts), and the Hoang Lien Son range, a southern extension of the Himalayas, is a particular hub of plant diversity. The national park is home to over 2000 plant species, including some incredibly rare taxa! The area is of particular interest to us here at Westonbirt, as plants from the region have been shown to be hardy in UK cultivation, and we have some examples growing in the arboretum.

What are we looking for?

There is a diverse range of Acer in the region, and in recent years new taxa have been discovered. One of Dan’s chief aims on his travels will be to further define these new Acer taxa, and to perhaps make some exciting new discoveries!

What are we hoping to bring back to Westonbirt?

The information Dan gains on his trip will allow us to expand our knowledge of Acer and help us to better care for and curate the examples currently growing at Westonbirt. His work documenting the species in the area will provide a better understanding of what is currently growing in the region, and therefore will help to form conservation objectives.

We have a number of taxa at Westonbirt Arboretum that are found in the Hoang Lien Son mountain range. A taxon in the Acer pectinatum complex can currently be found thriving in Silk Wood, and an Acer pictum now growing in the Old Arboretum was collected in the area. This last one is particularly exciting as this taxon was not previously thought to be found in Vietnam; Dan will be working on establishing its exact status!

Watch this space for more information on the trip, as Dan will be sending us updates, highlights and photos from his adventures!

Free entry to RHS Gardens has ended

Wednesday, January 4th, 2017

The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) are no longer offering Westonbirt members free entry to any of their gardens after July 2017 using their Friends membership card.  Please read on to check when your membership will no longer be valid to visit any of the RHS sites for free.

  • All members had free access to any RHS gardens up to 31st December 2016.
  • If your membership was renewed or began between the 1st of January and 31st of July 2016 you will still be able to gain free entry until the expiry date on your current card up to 31st of July 2017.
  • If you are a life or 10 year Friend you will also still be able to visit up to the 31st of July 2017.

As of 1st of January 2017, RHS members no longer gain free access to Westonbirt Arboretum.

The Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum and the Forestry Commission were not consulted by the RHS before they made their decision and we realise that some Friends will be disappointed by this outcome.  However, we hope you still feel that being a member of Westonbirt is good value and understand how much your support benefits the arboretum.

In 2016 alone we were able to open the STIHL Treetop Walkway and the Wolfson Tree Management Centre and of course the work on our fantastic collection of trees and shrubs continues. This fantastic work would not have been possible without the support from you, our members.

There are still a whole host of other benefits to Friends of Westonbirt members, including free admission to:

  • Batsford Arboretum
  • Bedgebury National Pinetum
  • Birmingham Botanicals & Glasshouses
  • The Yorkshire Arboretum
  • National Botanic Gardens of Wales
  • Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh
  • Royal Botanic Gardens Kew
  • Royal Botanic Gardens Wakehurst Place

Of course your membership gives you free entry to Westonbirt every day (except Christmas day) and free entry for your children aged 18 and under. Plus free Westonbirt magazines, priority booking for Forest Live concerts, and priority booking and Friday discounts for Enchanted Christmas, which all help to ensure that your membership really is great value.

Best Wishes,

Catherine Hewer

Supporter Engagement Manager

Plant hunting…we’re back!

Wednesday, November 30th, 2016

After just over 3 weeks out in the field in Italy, we are now settling back into our daily routines here at Westonbirt.

The last portion of our trip was spent in the north east of the country, primarily to collect some of the European conifer species that grow in this area. We were working with staff from the Corpo Forestale dello Stato and as in the south, we benefitted from their encyclopedic knowledge of the native flora.

Collecting highlights here included Scots pine, Abies alba and Pinus mugo, all of which are currently important species here in the landscape at Westonbirt, though the vast majority of these are of no known origin. Our collections are significant as these plants will help inform us as to how Italian examples of these species will perform in our climate.

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In total, we made 77 collections, 16 of which were also for the Millenium Seed Bank. Though we didn’t quite manage to collect everything on our target plant list (that’s nature for you!), strong connections were made with our Italian colleagues and we are well placed to explore further collecting options in the future.

For all of us, the experience was one that will remain with us forever. We were treated to incredible hospitality throughout and without our Italian colleagues; none of this would have been possible. To marvel at these plants in their native habitat is of course incredible and to collect seed that will become trees in the collection here at Westonbirt is truly special. We are looking forward to it!!

Dan, Dendrologist