Archive for the ‘Tree Team and Propagation’ Category

Tree of the Month: January 2015

Thursday, December 18th, 2014

January - ash

What is this month’s tree of the month?
Fraxinus excelsior
Common ash

Why is it tree of the month?
Because of its spectacular form, most evident in its leafless state

Where can I see it?
Approaching or leaving the Welcome Building you’ll find this fine specimen which is one of the best you’re ever likely to see.

Dan Crowley, Dendrologist, Westonbirt, The National Arboretum

The future of Westonbirt Wood Sales

Monday, October 13th, 2014

In the next few months we are due to start work on the new Tree Management Centre, as part of Phase Two of the Westonbirt Project. Part of this work will be to demolish a building that we all call ‘The Sawmill’ to make way for a new welfare building and Tree Management Centre. Currently, this is where the Westonbirt wood sales group are located and unfortunately we don’t have alternative spot for them at this time. This means, for now, we are going to suspend the wood sales group until we can relocate them hopefully later in the New Year.

The next dates for wood sales are the 8th & 9th November. The last wood sales will then be held on the 13th & 14th December, so make sure you come along and grab yourself a bargain!

Andrew Jane
Operations Support Officer

Curator’s very occasional blog

Friday, July 18th, 2014

Following some very impressive thunder and lightning overnight, I ventured out into the Old Arboretum at first thing on Friday morning (18th July 2014) to check for any damage.  All was very quiet and still, with just a few wild mammals and birds for company, before the gates open to the public and the concerts are in full swing on the Downs.  I took a brief moment to appreciate how special the arboretum is in the summertime, despite 90% humidity on this occasion.  Fortunately, I found only a broken branch on the giant redwood (Sequoiadendron giganteum) that stands alone near the big stone on Holford Ride.

On my way back to the office, I decided that today’s star of the show is definitely the Smoke Bush (Cotinus coggygria).  Flowers are numerous and are produced in large groups or clusters in summer.  Each individual flower is small and insignificant, but when most of them abort, feathery plumes are left that together can have wispy ’smoke-like’ appearance, hence the common name.

Tucked away by the Dew Pond is a work of art entitled the Westonbirt Wishes Bronze, which was created to capture the wishes of visitors back in the summer of 2003.  People were invited to write their wishes on ribbons – happy, sad, funny and serious – and over 4,000 of them made up a large ball that was later cast in bronze.  Although the project finished long ago, it is interesting to see that people are still putting their wishes into this hollow sculpture, and here are just two of them:

“I wish that Alex and I stay this in love forever.”

“I wish my sister would be nice to me.”



Stormy weather…

Monday, February 17th, 2014

By Mark Ballard, Curator.

As I write, we continue to be at the mercy of the all too familiar wet & windy weather, it has already been a long winter.  A question we are often asked during spells such as this, is whether we have suffered much in the way of damage to the botanical collection.  We are fortunate to be able to report that we have been largely unaffected by the strong winds to date, which combined with extremely wet ground conditions can be potentially problematic to our trees.

We regularly inspect all our specimen trees & shrubs, especially following adverse weather, to record information & ensure that we can safely open to the public.  So far we have had around two dozen larger trees either up-rooted, blown over, or with branches that have snapped.  Thankfully none of them represent a significant loss, & we will make sure any gaps are filled in due course with new plantings.  We like to think that a well maintained arboretum will suffer much less damage, but the truth is as we seen in the past there is also a huge amount of luck involved in these things.

Two trees that you may very well know have suffered some indirect damage, these are the pair of Full Moon Maples (Acer japonicum) on Holford Ride, tree numbers 08-0032 & 08-0307.  The maples are on the north side of the ride & protrude almost to the midway point of this important vista.  They always colour a very bright red in early autumn each year, which attracts lots of interest from leaf-peepers & keen photographers.  A Lawson Cypress (Chamaecyparis lawsoniana) lost one of its main leading branches on the opposite side of the ride, which was large enough to smash into both of the maples.  We have already begun the clear-up operation & with some formative pruning the good news is that the maples will not have to be felled, although they will be slightly slimmer!

The wet ground conditions do represent a significant challenge to our Tree Team & volunteers, as it does hamper efforts to undertake the ongoing maintenance & development of the arboretum that is so essential to its wellbeing.  However, wet weather clothing & plenty of cake appears to be keeping their spirits up!

The culprit – the view across Holford Ride towards the Full Moon maple following the recent stormy weather.


The Tree Team moved quickly to make safe the damage and the next job will be to clear way the cut branches.

 Clearing the damage

Some very slick and sensitive formative pruning should mean that most people will not even notice.


A Tree Team felling operation on the edge of Silk Wood, where sadly 15 Leyland Cypress were uprooted.

 Felling operation.

Where does all this rain water end up, well first it settles at the bottom of the valley . . .


. . . before gushing into a temporary ‘Lake Westonbirt’ on neighbouring farmland.


All in a day’s work…

Monday, February 17th, 2014

By Mark Ballard, Curator.

No two days are the same for me at Westonbirt, & I have to say that the great variety of my role is something that I do enjoy.  On the 14th February 2014, yes Valentine’s Day, I was asked to attend a seminar at nearby Highgrove as one of the facilitators, the event was entitled ‘The Future of Learning and Development in the English Woodland Sector’.

It was impressive to see lots of influential people were there from across the woodland & forestry industries, his Royal Highness The Prince of Wales was also in attendance.  Firstly, we heard some very interesting presentations on the subject of England’s Working Woodlands, including ‘An Historic Overview’ from Oliver Rackham OBE, the well known academic; ‘The Present Situation’ from Graham Taylor, who is the Managing Director of Pryor & Rickett Silviculture; & ‘Future Opportunities’ from Dr Peter Bonfield OBE, who is the Chief Executive of the BRE Group.

We then heard about Coppice Apprenticeships from Rebecca Oaks of the National Coppice Federation, as well as stories from some amazing young people that have successfully entered the profession through The Woodland Heritage ‘Woodland to Workshop’ course, The Prince’s Trust ‘Get Into Woodlands’ programme & Forestry Apprenticeships.  His Royal Highness also presented the Prince of Wales Award to Nina Williams from the South Downs National Park Authority, who is working hard to promote all sorts of woodland skills opportunities as a career choice.

After lunch there was a workshop whereby each table held discussions answering pre-set questions based on the theme of the day, when we were all asked specifically what more our individual organisations can do to promote learning & skills development in the woodland & forestry sectors.  A great deal of knowledgeable debate followed & lots of valuable ideas were put forward, it is now the job of colleagues at the Forestry Commission England national office based in Bristol to collate these suggestions & importantly work out the next steps.

On a personal note, I found the seminar to be very informative.  It was particularly reassuring to know that our woodland management & coppice restoration in Silk Wood is following best practice & also pleasing to hear that Westonbirt is held in such high regard.

New Silk Wood path under construction!

Friday, September 13th, 2013

You may have seen some work going on in Silk Wood.  We are improving access by creating a new stone surfaced path that links between Waste Drive and Broad Drive.

The route has been carefully chosen to provide a picturesque journey from start to finish and provide access to some of Silk Wood’s highlights.

Consideration has also been given to the aesthetic appearance of the new drive, particularly its smooth curves and newly created sightlines.  The full length is 650 metres and the path will be constructed using the same dimensions and materials as other traditional drives at Westonbirt and will improve access for mobility buggies and wheelchairs.

The aim is to complete the project – which has been made possible by the generous support of The Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum – by autumn 2013.

Farewell to the weeping beech trees at Lodge Gates

Friday, August 23rd, 2013

Friday 23rd August 2013

You may have noticed there are two large trees at the edge of the arboretum that overhang the A433 road heading towards Tetbury.  These are weeping beech (Fagus sylvatica ‘Pendula’) that stand at the end of Jackson Avenue on either side of the Lodge Gates, opposite the main entrance to Westonbirt School.  We do not have a record of the year they were planted, but it is noted in the Jackson Catalogue of Westonbirt Trees and Shrubs that they were young trees back in 1927, and “making good growth” at about 25 foot in height.

Weeping Beech
As they grew bigger and at some point more recently, both trees were given additional support by way of a cable brace system attached to larger specimens to the rear.  All cable braces require annual inspection, and renewal if needed, as part of our Tree Safety Management programme, as well the fact that they are in Zone 1 (high usage area) with a potential high ‘target’ value (road users could get hurt).
We do not like to compromise the shape and form of trees unnecessarily, but due to their size and close proximity to a busy road, the trees were pruned back from the highway in October 2002, and again in March 2004, with the appropriate temporary traffic management systems in place.  Unfortunately, here we have a case of the right trees in the wrong place, but thankfully tree work of this nature is very rare at Westonbirt because we usually have the space required to grow wonderful specimens as nature intended.

Weeping Beech
We have now had cause to carry out a thorough visual tree assessment, as sadly tree number 02-0123 lost a large branch at the end of June, which snapped and fell across the A433 without any sign of warning.  I am pleased to report that no-one was hurt or property damaged.  The tree management team have concluded for a number of reasons, that these trees will have to be felled soon, although this decision has mainly been taken because the structural integrity of the damaged tree has been compromised.  As they were very much planted as a pair in the landscape, the undamaged tree will also need to be felled.
Whilst unnecessary removal or disfigurement should always be avoided, it is fair to say that no tree is entirely safe and so decisions must be based on recognisable hazards.  Legally we have a ‘duty of care’ to people who enter our land or the vicinity, and in the case of trees, vicinity includes the potential falling range of boundary trees.  Where a tree is hazardous because of decay or structural weakness and shows external signs of being in such a condition, the occupier of the land on which it stands is normally liable under UK law for any personal injury of other damage it causes by breaking or falling.
There are other considerations, such as a degree of root damage, the ongoing need for regular crown reduction and thinning, the weight of the canopy and angle at which the trees lean over the road, and of course the likelihood of further branches falling from either tree.
We do not plan to replace these trees immediately, to make sure we avoid similar problems in the future.
The work will result in the temporary closure of the road to allow operations to take place safely, and so we apologise for any inconvenience that this may cause.
Mark Ballard

A winter walk with Westonbirt’s curator, Mark Ballard

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2013

Isn’t it funny how normally familiar surroundings can appear very different throughout the seasons…

Today I managed to escape from my office for a hour or two, my purpose was to check on some of our newly planted young specimens in the Old Arboretum.

Juglans mandshurica (Manchurian Walnut)Juglans mandshurica (Manchurian Walnut)

Back in the autumn of 2011, I was part of a wild seed collecting trip to Japan. Penny our propagator is doing a fantastic job as always in caring for the seeds we brought back, with lots of successful germination so far. Impressively, two species have grown from seed trays to 7 litre pots in under 12 months, and were actually ready for planting just before Christmas. We choose to locate a group of three Juglans mandshurica (Manchurian Walnut) from Chichibu University Forest within a mixed clump in Section 16 near Main Drive.

 Zanthoxylum ailanthoides (Japanese Toothache Tree)Zanthoxylum ailanthoides (Japanese Toothache Tree)

We located a large group of ten Zanthoxylum ailanthoides (Japanese Toothache Tree) from Chiba University Forest in Section 4 next to Loop Walk at the new 2050 Glade. It’s obviously early days, but all these specimens are doing well despite a very cold introduction to life at Westonbirt.

Mark (120)Mark (108)

During my walk, I saw some strange sights & shapes in the snow where I would usually expect to see all too familiar scenes, such as these Juniper mounds. It never fails to amaze me, just how different yet beautiful the arboretum can appear on any given day of the year.


It was very quiet, and I soon found myself away from the main paths where the only other tracks had been made by birds, rabbits, foxes & deer. I was accompanied for a while by a pheasant at one point, oblivious to me & seeming to equally enjoy the surrounding winter wonderland.

2050 GladeCabbage Tree (Cordyline australis)

At the entrance to the 2050 Glade is an information board about future challenges, but our trees & shrubs must also be able to cope with the weather of today. Here we have a plant that is a long way from home & hopefully doing just that, a Cabbage Tree (Cordyline australis).

Morley RideHolford Ride

The views along both Morley Ride and Holford Ride are just great.

Colour CircleParrotia persica (Persian Ironwood)

Colour Circle is also looking fantastic, especially the Persian Ironwood (Parrotia persica) which is worth a closer look for its winter flowers.

Chinese Witch Hazel (Hamemelis mollis)Oregan Grape (Mahonia x media 'Charity')

Other flowering plants along Main Drive are Chinese Witch Hazel (Hamamelis mollis), and Oregon Grape (Mahonia x media ‘Charity’), which at first glance looks a little like an alien.

Grand Fir (Abies grandis)

My personal ‘Tree of the Day’ award must go to a Grand Fir (Abies grandis) on Loop Walk, for the geometric pattern highlighted in the branches.

Giant Redwood (Sequoiadendron giganteum)Acer Glade

The Runner-up spot goes to the rather majestic group of Giant Redwood (Sequoiadendron giganteum) on the corner of Lime Avenue & Holford Ride. Third position must go collectively to Acer Glade, which currently rivals the glory of autumn right now.

Tree Team at work sign

Believe it or not, the Tree Team are still outside hard at work as there is always something to do whatever the weather. If you get the chance, I would strongly urge you to get out there too before all the snow disappears for another year.

Office Culture vs Horticulture: why some of Westonbirt’s staff love doing what they do!

Monday, January 21st, 2013

On this, ‘Blue Monday’, the day that’s supposed to be the most depressing of the year, the Forestry Commission’s National Arboretum at Westonbirt is supporting the RHS campaign ‘Office culture versus horticulture’ to show how careers working outdoors can make you happy!

So why did some of Westonbirt’s staff choose a ‘green’ career?


Gina Mills, Marketing Officer: “The appeal of working in marketing somewhere like Westonbirt is two-fold, really. Firstly, the idea of ‘marketing trees’ and engaging new audiences with Westonbirt to enable more people to enjoy the outdoors and learn, often in a very informal way, about plants is something that really interested me.

“Secondly, there are amazing opportunities for personal development offered by working in a garden or arboretum – I am always learning more about trees and plants from my colleagues, who are incredibly knowledgeable. Not to mention the well-being benefits of having access to this unique landscape every day of my working week. It’s a great balance between the office and the outdoors and I find it difficult to imagine working outside of this sector now!”

Arboretum Director, Simon Toomer

Simon Toomer, Arboretum Director: “For me initially it was the love of being outdoors in beautiful places. Then it was the appeal of doing a physically demanding job and the satisfaction of developing skills that at first seemed very difficult.

“Over the years I have gained enormous satisfaction from jobs well done -whether it was a planted tree or a well-thinned woodland. Working with trees and garden management, there is the added dimension of having a long lasting impact with your successes!”

Andy Bryce, Arborist

Andy Bryce, Arborist: “The physical aspect of working outdoors is both enjoyable and rewarding. I’ve worked outdoors for eight years and haven’t looked back. Having a green skill gives me the chance to travel and learn about trees and plants from all around the world.

“I feel healthy and I have much less ironing to do than when I worked in an office!”

Tom Dewey, Arborist

Tom Dewey, Arborist: “I prefer experiencing real life outdoors, rather than through a window. It’s a lifestyle choice that makes me look forward to Mondays! I also take a lot of satisfaction from knowing that I am contributing to a beautiful place that other people can enjoy.

“I think it’s never too late to change your job. There are lots of grants and student positions (often all over the world) to apply for and they’ll give you many opportunities to experience trees, plants and life in different locations.”

Paul Cody, Head of Visitor Attraction

Paul Cody, Head of Visitor Attraction: “As a small child I was fascinated by how things grew. Putting a nasturtium seed in a pot and watching and waiting for it to grow was one of the highlights of my early years. As I grew older I became intrigued how massive trees grew from such tiny seeds. This led my enquiring mind to forestry and a life long passion for trees and gardening.”

Goodbye to another very old friend… by Mark Ballard, Curator

Friday, November 23rd, 2012

Predicted high winds and heavy rainfall resulted in the closure of the arboretum to the public on Thursday 22 November 2012.

Thankfully the extreme weather conditions caused very little damage; during our early morning safety inspections the next day we found just a few small branches on the ground, with the loss of no trees or shrubs.

The only casualty was a standing dead oak on The Downs, not far from the Mitchell Drive entrance to the Old Arboretum.

fallen oak
The oak (Quercus robur) had been allowed to gracefully go into decline over a very long period, and eventually died in the past few years.

We had kept in place as it provided an interesting feature within the parkland landscape, not to mention the chance to tell people about the valuable habitat that these trees provide.

We can only guess at its age, as both the main trunk and remaining branches are now hollow and rotted. It is certainly safe to say though, that it was several hundred years old.

The good news is that a young oak sapling had been planted right next to the original tree back in 2009, and despite a close shave is unharmed.

Find out more about Westonbirt’s trees and landscape…