In April I decided to make a record of every tree in our 2.5-acre garden (in southwestern Mynachlogddu, Pembrokeshire, Wales) noting its species and measuring it. Partly so I would know what I had by way of wood for construction and heating etc. Partly so that I had a good idea of which trees were at risk of falling and possibly causing damage to buildings. But mostly so that in years to come I (or anyone else that might be interested) would be able to know exactly how the land had changed from what it used to be; rather than relying on fallible memory or hopeful deduction.
What I would give to know exactly what trees were here 100 years ago! Which of those now mature were saplings then; which great trees have been expunged from the landscape by storms, diseases, beetles, etc. Unfortunately for me no detailed mapping of the land exists in these terms; just the ordnance survey maps which appear from the mid 1800s, then the map on the registered title (naturally more concerned with buildings than trees) dating from about 1960. People did not have the time in the past to measure trees for the benefit of people in the future.
The database of trees is viewable online here. In terms of what constitutes a “tree”, I have generously allowed anything which measured 10cm or more in circumference of its main trunk (or stem!) to qualify. These have then been sorted into small trees (from 10–50cm around) medium trees (501–100cm) large trees (100–200cm) and very large trees (or “VLTs”, anything over 200cm). On the database I have also noted a number of (under-10cm-circumference) saplings I was especially interested in; either because they are rare by local standards, or otherwise because they interested me enough that I wanted to follow their progress.
Of 670 trees surveyed, the total number of trees in each group is as follows:
The species noted showed some clusters of particular groups in some areas (e.g. elm and blackthorn up by the churchyard) with some others (e.g. ash, hazel, sycamore and hawthorn) relatively common throughout. The numbers of surveyed trees were as follows, in descending order of prevalence:
Elm (Atinian): 59
Willow (Sallow): 51
Scots pine: 9
Willow (Osier): 7
Norway spruce*: 2
Oak (Sessile): 1
Horse chestnut: 1
Wild cherry: 1
* Alas, I’ve yet to be able to satisfactorily confirm what these two evergreens are, so this is a guess; all I know is they’re not scots pines.
As far as what’s absent: everything else, I suppose. But native trees absent (now native, as opposed to true native) include: Alder buckthorn, Aspen, Beech (though there is one promising sapling), Birch (of any kind), Box, Purging Buckthorn, Bird Cherry, Dogwood (though suspected saplings have been noted north of the bridge), Wych Elm, Guelder Rose, Hornbeam, Juniper, Lime (of any kind), Field maple, Plymouh pear, Black poplar, Spindle, Whitebeam, Arran whitebeam, Rock whitebeam, Wild service (though I suspect these don’t exist, as I have never seen one), Willows of the crack, white, or bay variety, and, finally, Yew (though I have planted one sapling, and it’s doing well).
I don’t know how to rate the biodiversity of our few acres. It seems pretty good to me. I was surprised by how few oak and beech there were; though this is not atypical for the area. Of course one always wants what one doesn’t have. I might be tempted to plant some birch or aspen; or indeed sweet chestnut, which though not native would surely thrive in out temperate wet woodland. The issue there is that there is so little land here not already well-shaded by mature or semi-mature trees. With ash-dieback moving through the area, and a sizeable proportion of our large ash trees in danger of succumbing, and likely to have to be felled or to fall without assistance, it may be that the canopy around Cwmisaf will thin, and that more room will be made for other trees. Left to its own devices, it seems very likely that the land would allow sycamores to dominate. Some two thousand years after their introduction, sycamores are very much on the up in the area; they seed and propagate easily, requiring no help from anybody else. And while some of our biggest and most characterful trees are sycamores, I don’t relish the notion of a hostile takeover by these very shady, fast-growing, orange-barked newbies. So I might do my bit to (perhaps unnaturally) encourage a bit more by way of oak, beech, chestnuts etc.
I am new to trees, mind you, and open to suggestions for how best to manage this bit of woodland. Judging by the saplings seeding beneath the understory it would seem that the days of ash are unlikely to be numbered (unless all these youngsters carry dieback, or a susceptibility to it, in their young bodies); so sycamore, ash, hawthorn, hazel, elder, blackthorn and holly might all have bright futures here. Elm seems to be thriving too, though whether any of it will reach the great heights so many of these trees managed before the mid-twentieth-century DED epidemic I couldn’t say. The increased presence of jays seems to have led to a gradual increase in oak saplings, which makes me optimistic. Rowan is far better represented among the saplings than it is by mature trees. There are no pine saplings that I know of, and the “wet” trees (alder and willow) seem to be completely absent from the deep understory. Either their young folk are incognito, or they are being muscled out by the ashes and sycamores of this world.
What follow now is detailed scans of the survey maps, region-by-region, coupled with a brief description of some of my favourite trees in the area:
Part 1, Dogmael Island South: “The Pines”
All of the evergreens on this island section are imposing and impressive. I suppose the “green ring” of 8 scots pines and 2 unidentified sprucey type trees were planted in the earl-to-mid 20th century to shore up the island (and the bridge that straddles it) against erosion by Afon Wern. The biggest and best of the trees is named Magnus Barelegs, and I estimate it to be just over 100 years old. Realistically, perhaps, the others, mostly estimated to be around 75-80, might well have been planted at exactly the same time; so perhaps the likely age is somewhere in the middle?
At this juncture I should say that the method for calculating (well, estimating) the age of trees has been averaged out based on recommendations on numerous reputable dendrological websites. I’ve been able to cross-reference my predictions with the actual counting of rings on several felled specimens from different species (notably ash, hawthorn and hazel) which results have then been used to modify my formulae to the following:
Landskerian tree age calculator
Circumference in cm / growth factor:
Horse chestnut: 2
Wild cherry: 1.5
To conclude this first part, after that digression, I would like to say that our (just about) large wild cherry tree is very beautiful when blooming in spring, but it is too tall for me to know if it produces edible cherries in summer.
Part 2, South Landskeria: “The Long Bog” & “The Floodland”
I do not believe any tree in the long bog to be a centenarian. And while the riverbank here, as in the Floodland, is shored up mostly by mature ash trees, the character tree of the territory for me is W06, the sprawling (yet still partly upright) sallow, whose trunk split in a storm a year ago. This has been dubbed Fallapart Freddy. Sadly, the garden’s biggest hawthorn, at the north of the territory, fared even worse under the weight of summer rain last year and collapsed entirely. I sawed it all up and left the stump, so it is now known as Stumpy Steve; and while its fate remains uncertain, it is producing plenty of new shoots, so may well go on to live a long and fulfilling life as a coppice stool, following its 80-ish years as a tree.
The Floodland has a couple of ashes which look to be just over 100 years old. One of these has recently been fitted with a swing on a generously thick horizontal branch overhanging the river. Sybil dubbed it “Swingy” as a result. Just next door is what my tape-measure dictates to be the biggest ash in Landskeria, called Wishbone Ash, due to its shape. (I’m unfamiliar with the band of the same name.) Wishbone is a VLT of about 129 years, and thus about 100 years younger than our house. It looks relatively healthy, diebackwise, compared to its near neighbours; but it’s unlikely due to its numerous V-shaped trunk divergences to ever make a truly grand age, even if it weathers the latest tree-plague. Against the prfessional advice of the Woodland Trust, I killed some incredibly thick (about 30cm c.) ivy that was growing up it, to try and reduce the amount of immediate competition for nutrients and water, and (hopefully) thereby improve its chances of short-term survival.
Part 3, Dogmael Island North: “The Pipe”
There is one sycamore that theoretically qualifies as a VLT, although it is relatively squat for an estimated centenarian. It’s called Big Barbie due to the swallowed barbed wire in its side. (Little Barbie is on the southern part of the island, on the other side of the road bridge.)
I may have overmeasured, as it’s thick with ivy and moss, etc. But it is big; it’s stature is however somewhat curtailed by the imposing evergreens to the sun-side; it gets most of its energy in the afternoon and evening. The ashes in this area are particularly sickly looking, but an abundance of rowan seedlings and what (after much investigation) I suspect to be dogwood show promise for a good understory if I can be bothered to continue clearing the thickest areas of brambles.
Part 4, West Landskeria: “The Boulders”, “The Chase”, “The Brambles” & “The Bend”
There is one likely centenarian to the south of this area: the Gravedigger sycamore, so called because its mighty roots and split trunk abut the little ring of Red Rocks many people presume to be some kind of neolithic tomb. It has swallowed some chickenwire at some point in the past.
There are other ashes and alders which border on being “old”, including one of the procession of mature alders which line the suspected former overflow channel for the leat (now a stream in winter and a series of small isolated pools in summer). This one is called Boggy B, but the only other two named trees in the area, both in the small territory of The Boulders, in the northernmost section, are by far the biggest characters.
The first is Landskeria’s only oak tree, a sessile of about 192, formerly believed to be the oldest living thing in the garden. It’s been (re-)named Gospel Oak due to its position on the border of the parish (Mynachlogddu) and the tradition of such trees being used as part of bounds-beating processions as places to stop and read from the gospels. I’m not sure if this is an entirely appropriate name as I’ve no idea if such a tradition was prevalent here, and it’s not by the bridge; but it’ll do for now.
The second of the two is Landskeria’s only designated “ancient tree” and ancient only because it’s an alder, and by comparison to others of its species. I might be wrong (as is always the case) but the huge girth of the very lower part of this tree, compared with the complete lack of very thick trunks extending up to its canopy, indicates to me that it was coppiced for many years of its midlife, and has thus only survived for as long as (I think) it has due to the artificial life-lengthening this practice can lend to a tree. The rough measurement I made has it at just under 4 metres around; not huge for an oak or a beech, but unusual for an alder, and easily the largest tree, by base circumference, in our locality. I estimate its age as 223, which would make it rare for an alder, and the oldest tree in our garden by a long way – almost exactly as old as our house. It’s called Hen Hyll (or Old Ugly in English), due to its entirely gnarled, noduled and pitted bark at the base (much-loved by tree bumblebees who are often to be found crawling in and out); its ugliness in conventional aesthetic terms makes it extremely beautiful in my eyes, of course. It may well die in my lifetime, and while it would be sad to see it happen I’ve no doubt that its mass of woody tissue would continue to be a home for all manner of plants, animals, fungi, etc. just as it is now for many years after the event. I would love to know, if its past is as I suspect it, when it was last coppiced, and by whom.
Part 5, The Sheds: “The Drive”, “Sheds North” & “Sheds South”
There are lots of large trees in this stretch of land, mostly ash, and many looking rather sorry for themselves. Several of them need to be removed or pollarded (at least) as a matter of some urgency.
The biggest two (both roughly centenarians) are the Cowshed Ash and the Factory Ash, named for their almost alarming proximity to their respective buildings.
Both ought to be cut down if the buildings are to be developed (which is the plan); the preference would be to pollard them, but ash dieback might render our own opinions in this matter moot.
Part 6, Cwmisaf: “The House”, “The Lawn” & “The Holloway”
Two centenarian sycamores on the riverbank by the Holloway dominate the airspace above the Lawn: one is called Suave Stanley due to its louche and rebellious attitude; the other is called Captain Caveman, because it has a split trunk where it hangs over the river, resembling a little cave.
Most of the ash trees in this territory will need to be pollarded or culled to avoid damaging the house.
The riverbank might then support some new trees to be planted as understory.
Part 7, The Common: “The Neck”, “The Sluices”, “The Holt”, “The Finger” & Scimitar Island
Though rich with many trees, this convoluted inter-river spit of land is sufficiently wild and scrubby that few are particularly notable in their effect on the overall landscape; with the possible exception of the big willow on the extra-Landskerian territory of Scimitar Island (named for its shape, somewhat like a nicked blade) which tree is in turn named for the island it grows on as Saladin Sallow. It is just over a metre in circumference and doubtfully close to 100, but nonetheless notably large for a local willow, especially while remaining in an upright attitude.
None of the other big ashes or sycamores are especially noteworthy. There is one lone horse chestnut sapling; presumably having ended up there from one of the mature trees up by Llandre Isaf, perhaps with the help of a bird or a beast.
Part 8, The Quarry
Numerous large ash trees line the border of the quarry where the boundary with the neighbouring land lies; but many large ashes also loom from the quarry over the house, somewhat worryingly.
Few of these show advanced signs of dieback, but none looks like it will be here in 100 years’ time.
The only tree here to pre-date the remaining disused woollen mill (or “factory”, which is said to have been built from stone quarried onsite) is Chewy, the big sycamore (named for the old electrical wire its split base is seen to be “chewing”) 2 metres + in circumference and up to about 135 years old. It’s just possible that this sycamore watched, as a sapling, wagons full of stone being carted down toward the leat by the old tucking mill to be dressed and mortared into the new walls of the new powerloom factory.
Part 9, High Mire
No VLTs in this territory, though it does contain an unusually large Hazel (somewhat leaning, but otherwise more-or-less “tree-shaped”, unusually for the species), a few big ash trees in varying states of health, some small to medium elms, and one “notable” tree, albeit not a centenarian, in the shape of Aughiska the sallow. The name is from the band “From The Bogs of Aughiska” simply because it’s growing in a bog.
There is also one lone scots pine, just over the bank from its friends. Who knows whether they share enough root space to be part of the same fungal network? I doubt it.
Part 10, The Hazelwood
This broad area contains fewer hazels than its name suggests, and more elms. Three of the four notable trees (each a different species) are located on the boundary and thus not necessarily owned by us (inasmuch as one can own a tree).
Pennywise is the VLT sycamore growing next to a drain (hence the name) where the neighbours’ overflow from a disused lane flows into a drainage channel toward our leat during heavy rainfall. Bank Ash is a big (not quite VLT) centenarian ash tree at the border of our land, the neighbours’ and the churchyard; St Elmo, along the same boundary with the church, is Landskeria’s largest elm tree – just over a metre around, though doubtfully 100 years old; finally, Bug Club Willow is a sprawling sallow dominating the damp southern region of the territory – about a metre in girth, and maybe 70 years old, it’s named for the “secret” club my daughters formed, which meets (though seemingly very rarely) in the shaded area beneath its inner branches.
Thus ends the 2020 Landskerian Cadastral Survey. Until I survey and add the trees of the Forbidden Island. Then it really ends.
A Velky, 19/06/2020