A sad story to share…

Posted: September 6, 2016 at 10:58 am

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.

Damaged Rhododendron

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