Autumn News 2020

Registrar's Report
Dr Owen Johnson MBE

Last year I predicted for you that one more season’s recording by all of our volunteers would see the Tree Register’s database pass the grand total of a quarter of a million trees; I’m not, of course, much good at looking into the future, but at least we now have something to look forward to in 2021. Despite all  the restrictions imposed by lockdown, several of our recorders have been out and about this summer and over 70 national champion trees have so far been discovered or updated.

                During 2019-20 our volunteer in Cheshire, John Weightman, teamed up with the national expert in Japanese cherries, Chris Sanders, to record some of the earliest plantings of ‘Matsumae’ cherry cultivars in the grounds of Bridgemere Garden World near Nantwich. These beautiful but still little-known cherries exist in great variety and at least ten of the examples at Bridgemere become new champions; a couple are still to be identified. John and Chris have also continued to work on their full survey of John Ravensworth’s Cherry Tree Arboretum in Cheshire, where some of the first plantings of many new cherry, birch and magnolia cultivars are already reaching champion size.

                In Devon, Rupert Baker discovered a new champion for Tilia oliveri, an exceptionally graceful Chinese lime, in the middle of Dartington village, where it had been planted by the Dartington Hall estate. Two trees of this species at Westonbirt Arboretum had been the biggest known for so many years that a change of guard seems particularly refreshing.

(Tilia oliveri at Dartington, Devon by Rupert Baker)                

Caroline Kernan in York measured a new champion for the now very rare elm Ulmus x hollandica ‘Dampieri’; this is a relic of Backhouse’s Nursery in the city and the land where it grows is due to be built over, but the elm now has a preservation order.

                Remarkable trees continue to be discovered across Yorkshire (now split into East, West, North and South on the database, allowing for the instatement of plenty of new ‘county champions’). John Killingbeck reports a superb new national record for the variegated Chinese tree privet Ligustrum lucidum ‘Excelsum Superbum’ in a front garden in Hessle; working with Alan Hunton, he has also found national champions in the form of a gigantic purple Norway maple Acer platanoides ‘Schwedleri’ at Bishop Burton College near Beverley, and an outstanding big-leaved Himalayan whitebeam, probably best called Sorbus vestita, at Roundhay Park in Leeds.

(photo below: Sorbus vestita at Roundhay Park, Leeds, by Alan Hunton)

More and more of our volunteer tree measurements are equipping themselves with the latest in laser height meters, meaning that the heights they record, however fantastic, can be accepted unquestionably as accurate. Pride of place this year must go to Rob Lynley, whose 45m Beech (Fagus sylvatica) in the Derwent gorge below Willersley Castle in Derbyshire becomes the tallest ‘wild’ or native tree in Britain. Hugo Egleston has found new champions near his home in Hampshire for Grey Poplar (Populus x canescens), 41.5m tall in Church Meadow, Selborne, and Roblé Beech (Nothofagus obliqua), 36m tall in a trial plantation in Cobden’s Copse, Binsted. Stephen Verge reports that the champion Ponderosa Pine (Pinus ponderosa), in private parkland near Welshpool in Powys, is now 48m tall, making it probably the tall pine in Europe.
An emergency move into rented accommodation turned out to have a silver (or golden) lining of sorts for Bryan Roebuck, who was able to record a new champion for Golden Robinia (Robinia pseudoacacia ‘Aurea’) in the front garden opposite. Tree Register David Ewins has been building a National Collection of Paulownia species in his garden near Bath, and reports that two (P. catalpifolia and P. fortunei ‘Fast Blue’) have reached champion size after only about 13 years from planting.
Last spring I reported the champion Chinese Swamp Cypress (Glyptostrobus pensilis), planted by Barry Pugh in West Park, Wolverhampton. Though already much bigger than any of the ‘old’ specimens in northern Europe, it’s now been overhauled by another youngster within the Surrey University Campus, which had reached 13.2m x 152cm girth by this September. It was planted in 1982 by Chemistry lecturer Gordon Hartman, whose legacy at the University lives on in the form of many rare and beautiful tree plantings.