Autumn News 2021

Report by Dr Owen Johnson MBE VMM 

One small positive from last year’s lockdowns is that Britain’s trees were able to fit in an extra season’s growth, making them even more impressive by the time that our network of volunteer recorders were finally able to get out and search for them again. By the end of October 2021, over 660 national Champions had been found, three fifths of them previously unrecorded.

Pride of place this time must go to Hugo Egleston and the Dawn Redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides) which he spotted in a field at Shepton House, Shepton Beauchamp, in Somerset (see image below by Hugo Egleston). With a girth of 556 cm on its flared and fluted bole, this tree unseats the original planting in the Fellows’ Garden at Clare College in Cambridge which has stood as champion almost continuously since the 1960s.


Stephen Verge has found a Norway Spruce (Picea abies) practically 49m tall in an unfrequented part of Puckpits Inclosure, a mixed plantation from c. 1860 in the New Forest, which is comfortably the tallest to have been accurately measured in Britain or Ireland. Rob Lynley, who can be relied upon to find tall trees in out-of-the-way places, reports a group of Western Balsam Poplars (Populus balsamifera subsp. trichocarpa) to 44 m tall by the Dales Way in Strid Wood, part of the Bolton Abbey estate in the Yorkshire Dales; no taller poplars have been reliably recorded in Britain, but astonishingly this stand may be less than 30 years old, having sprouted from bundles of brash laid to protect the riverbank from erosion; they are still growing fast but are under some threat of removal within this SSSI woodland (see image below by Rob Lynley).

In the lower Fishpool Valley at Croft Castle in Herefordshire, where a population of exceptionally tall native trees had never been measured but has recently been drastically thinned by the National Trust, Rob’s finds include a new champion Alder (Alnus glutinosa), 34 m tall but now left very exposed.

Balsam Poplar


For our partnership project the Ancient Tree Inventory, Kevin Stanley has found a Broad-leaved Lime (Tilia platyphyllos) in the parkland of Stoke Rochford Hall in Lincolnshire with a vast bole 950 cm in girth; this may possibly be a ‘bundle planting’ and less old than the dimensions suggest. Peter Messent has recorded a new record Smooth-leaved Elm (Ulmus minor var. minor), an ancient hollow pollard 548cm in girth which has continued to withstand Elm Disease, outside Akenham church in Suffolk.

I have been busy particularly this summer in the royal gardens at Windsor, where there are now very nearly 400 champion trees, most of them accessible to the visiting public in the Valley and Savill Gardens and the nearby Chapel Wood Arboretum. A previously unmeasured Pin Oak (Quercus palustris) in a high-security area of the Home Park is the most impressive in Britain at 29.5 m x 424 cm girth, while an opportunity to visit the private grounds of Royal Lodge within the Great Park revealed new champions for Fagus sylvatica ‘Dawyck’ (girth), Magnolia kobus (height) and Nothofagus cliffortioides (height).

I was also delighted to be able to revisit Buckingham Palace, whose garden’s 24 champions have nearly all been planted over the last four decades by the current Head Gardener Mark Lane. The most extraordinary of these, for me, is the Australian she-oak Casuarina cunninghamiana, planted as recently as 2007 but now a spreading tree 14.5 m x 137 cm girth; this is the first time that any she-oak has thrived to tree-size anywhere in Britain or Ireland and is one of the most striking pieces of evidence for the ways in which Climate Change is influencing the range of trees we can grow (see image below by Owen Johnson).
 Buckingham Palace


Aidan Champion, the youngest of Britain’s volunteer tree measurers, has lived up to his name and recorded a record Eucalyptus dalrympleana on the Wintershall Manor estate in Surrey, 481 cm girth. In Cardiff, Anne Bell has been studying the rare plantings in Cathays Cemetery, yet another of this city’s sites of dendrological interest, and has found five new champions, including an example of a beech cultivar (‘Purpurea Tortuosa’) that was feared extinct in cultivation. All these Cardiff trees can be explored on Anne and her husbands’ fascinating website,

Alan Hunton and John Killingbeck have been busy in Yorkshire and Lancashire, finding new record trees at familiar places such as the Harlow Carr Botanical Gardens and the Castle Howard estate, and measuring for the first time at gardens including Parcevall Hall high in the Yorkshire Dales, and Ingleborough Hall which used to be the home of the plant hunter Reginald Farrer; one remarkable tree surviving here is a multi-stemmed Carpinus turczaninowii collected by Farrer in China in 1914 and last noted nearly 90 years ago.

Ron Kemeny has updated the champions of Leonardslee gardens in West Sussex – open to the public again now – whose tally has risen to 28. Ron’s other finds, from this well-studied corner of the country, include new champions for the graceful flowering cherry Prunus x yedoensis ‘Tsubame’ at Ashurst Wood Primary School and the rare maple Acer pseudosieboldianum on the Michael Fields estate in Forest Row. John Weightman has finished his vast survey of John Ravenscroft’s private Cherry Tree Arboretum in Shropshire, and has also found new record-holders for Smoke-bush (Cotinus coggygria) in Chipping Campden and for Drimys winteri var. andina at Corsewall House in the very far south-west of Scotland.

Russell Miller reports a new champion for the now-scarce hawthorn hybrid X Crataemespilus grandiflora, 190 cm in girth, at Trinity Gardens in north London, and Nick Macer has measured a record Pink Siris (Albizia julibrissin) in the walled garden at Kingston Bagpuize in Oxfordshire, 9 m tall.

The staff at RHS Wisley have pushed their garden’s tally of champions to exactly a hundred, while the inevitable haul of new champions from the Sir Harold Hillier Gardens includes the Catalina Ironwood (Lyonothamnus floribundus subsp. aspleniifolius) by the lawn of Jermyns House, a remarkable 18 m tall.

After a visit from David Alderman, the Tree Register’s Trustee, Roy Lancaster, now has five national champion trees in his suburban garden in Chandler’s Ford, including the elegant laurel Nothaphoebe cavalieri, planted in 1996 and already 15 m tall. His 7 m plant of the Australian Lomatia fraseri was a sixth champion for a few weeks, until John Killingbeck happened to measure a slightly taller one at Gresgarth Hall, the Lancashire garden of our Trustee, Lady Arabella Lennox-Boyd.

 Mountain Cherry

(Image above) a new English champion for Mountain Cherry (Prunus jamasakura) at Parcevall Hall among the Yorkshire Dales, as measured by Alan Hunton and John Killingbeck. (Image by Parcevall Hall Gardens)