Worcestershire Record No. 16 April 2004 pp. 14-17


Harry Green

We are now getting more calls from people who have noticed interesting trees, and it is apparent that there are still a great many outstanding ancient trees in Worcestershire which have not yet found their way on to the Worcestershire Register. Many of these are scattered throughout the countryside, tucked away in odd corners and in hedgerows. We also know that the data on many trees on Bredon Hill held by English Nature will eventually reach us, and so will the records from the Worcestershire Wildlife Trust reserve at Pipers Hill Common.

Three recent exciting events stand out:
    The discovery of the Temple Oak
    The shortening of the Mitre Oak
     Recording of many outstanding trees in Spetchley Deer Park and in the surrounding estate (with grateful thanks to the owner Mr R J Berkeley and the  Spetchley Agent Simon Wilton for the interest and help)

The Temple Oak at Broughton Green.

When Nick Button saw this tree and John Day visited it earlier this year they reported a girth of 11 metres. We were astonished! John Tilt has passed by it many times but it was obscured by a hedge until fairly recently so he had not seen it, and it’s not far from where he lives! Between us all we are still arguing whether its 10m 90cm, 11 metre, or 11 metres 5 cms girth! The trunk is covered with burrs and bulges! We have adopted this tree as our logo. It’s broad, squat and entirely hollow but remarkably healthy. Using the criteria given by John White (1998) it is probably around 1000-1200 years old (calculated by John Tilt). I have difficulty in getting my mind round this – it was probably quite a big tree when William the Conqueror set foot in England!

The shortening of the Mitre Oak

I was very concerned when I heard this tree was in danger of falling and that plans were being made to shorten it. It is crucially important that arboricultural work on ancient trees is done by those expert in such work. Fortunately the tree’s custodians, Hartlebury Parish Council, were willing to obtain a report and advice from international expert Roy Finch, and to follow his recommendations. The problem was that the hollow trunk had two large entrances at the base separated by a narrow strut. The tree was leaning at an angle of about 15º on to the strut which was decaying and buckling under the strain, and would break, with risk of the whole tree falling to the south, unless weight was removed from above.

The tree had live branches at the top and also nearer to the base. It was therefore possible to cut off the top half of the tree and still leave living foliage lower down to keep the tree’s transpiration pump functioning and maintaining the flows of water and nutrients up and down the tree. If ancient oaks are heavily trimmed or re-pollarded without leaving living branches they rarely re-sprout and usually die.

On the 12th February 2004 Roy Finch recorded that the hollow trunk was girth 8.85 metres 2 metres from the ground, had a total height of 12 metres with a crown spread of approximately 8 metres at the top of the tree. He commented that the tree could be 1000 years old. Applying John White’s method John Tilt suggests an age of 950-1000 years.

The spread of the tree had been cut back when it was severely lopped about 20 years ago. Following that the tree became heavily clothed with ivy which was cut and killed in the last few years.

On 14th April 2004 Keith W Boulton carried out work on the tree, following Roy Finch’s recommendations. As an experience tree surgeon Keith was hoisted to the top of the tree by crane. By dangling from the cable he avoiding adding weight and further stress to the tree. He first trimmed off the top branches. Meanwhile a larger crane attached cable support to the upper part of the tree The tree surgeon was lowered to the right place to cut through the trunk about halfway down the tree. The top part of the tree was held by the crane and then lowered it to the ground, so removing about two tons from the tree top. Hopefully the tree will survive the experience and continue to live for many years

On inspection the upper trunk which had been cut down showed extensive red central decay. Around 30-40 cms of wood around the circumference was moderately sound, though heavily stained red and containing insect burrows. This zone showed tight-packed 10-12 annual rings per cm, so the outer 30 cm zone was at least 300 years old. Simple extrapolation from this ring count cannot be used to estimate the age of the tree because ring width and growth is much greater during the tree’s younger and mature years. During its long decay and senescence an oak must continue to produce annual growth rings but these are usually minimal.

The heartening aspect of the shortening of the Mitre Oak is an appreciation that ancient trees in risk of falling do not have to be cut down and killed. Careful management can make the safe and able to live for many more years. We shall watch the Mitre Oak with interest.

Spetchley Deer Park and environs.

During the winter 2003-2004 we have visited Spetchley on five occasions to record trees. Undoubtedly this area has the greatest concentration of old trees in central Worcestershire. There are only a few truly ancient trees but there are many oaks with circumferences around 4 metres and these were probably planted about 250 years ago alongside a few big trees which were probably about 200 years old at the time. The Spetchley trees are often hollow and/or carry decaying wood, and large limbs that have fallen are often lying near the trees. With such a wealth of decaying wood it is highly likely that the area is of great importance for invertebrates dependent on this habitat, and we hope to investigate this further in the future. Most of the trees are oaks with small numbers of ash, beech, sweet chestnut, horse chestnut and other species. We have recorded about 130 trees so far.

Other records

We were also able to visit several other sites with interesting collections of ancient trees, notably Mawley Hall (near Cleobury Mortimer), Shakenhurst (near Bayton) and Witley Court including adjacent farmland. We are most grateful to Rosemary Winnall for organising visits to these sites, and to several sites with just a few trees.


Mitre Oak. Ready to start – tree surgeon suspended in top of tree

Mitre Oak. Trimming the top branches

Mitre Oak. Trimming the top branches

Mitre Oak. After trimming top branches

Mitre Oak. Cutting through the hollow trunk at about mid-point. Weight taken by the crane.

Mitre Oak. Lowering the cut portion of trunk

Mitre Oak. Cut part of trunk on ground. The outer rim of intact though decaying wood is about 30 cms thick.

Mitre Oak The finished job. Shortened hollow trunk with about two tons weight removed. Living branches remaining.


THE TEMPLE OAK, Broughton Green, 30th March 2004.

The Temple oak with national ancient tree experts Ted Green and Jill Butler from the Ancient Tree Forum (Woodland Trust) The Temple Oak, Broughton Green.


WHITE, JOHN 1998 Estimating the age of large and veteran trees in Britain. Forestry Commission Information Note.

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