Meet the woodland warriors
Words by Katharine Wootton from Yours magazine
With many of our trees under threat as never before from disease and development, we explore the different ways three volunteers are coming to the rescue.
I help ancient trees thrive – Judy Dowling
As a nursery teacher Judy used to love nothing more than taking the children out into the Scottish forest to learn about nature. So when she heard the Woodland Trust were looking for volunteers to record ancient trees, this nature lover couldn’t resist taking part.
Now retired, Judy spends her time hunting out the oldest trees in our country, as well as following up other people’s recordings of ancient trees to verify them.
“I love ancient trees because of their history and the fact each tree tells a story. They are living archaeology and have sometimes been witness to historic events, such as the Ankerwycke yew under which the Magna Carta was thought to have been signed. What I’m looking for when I see a tree is signs that it is truly ancient, mainly if it has a hollow trunk or branches and deadwood around the tree. Old trees also tend to shrink and become wider at the girth so I measure how wide the trunk is. Interestingly, different trees are considered ancient at different ages, so a plum tree is ancient at 80 – 100 years while an oak has to be 400 years-plus”
As the more information Judy can provide the better, she sometimes ends up going to great lengths to get her recordings accurate.
“I remember once hanging on to ivy roots off a low cliff edge while a friend threw the end of a tape measure to me so I could record the tree’s statistics. That kind of thing isn’t normally expected of volunteers, but I do get carried away”
Once she has the details, Judy sends this to the Woodland Trust to help them conserve and protect the trees, firstly by making a record on a national database and by making landowners and scientists aware these trees exist. It also helps track the rate at which ancient trees are lost and identify threats.
In her time as a volunteer Judy has been all around the UK – and abroad – taking note of trees with incredible pasts. But the one tree she’s developed a real passion for is the mulberry.
“I tasted a mulberry for the first time about five years ago and I was hooked. It’s a really historic tree found in the gardens of many old houses. I even visited one of the oldest mulberry trees in Wakefield Prison which it’s though the women prisoners danced around with their children and which inspired nursery rhyme, Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush. Doing this, I’ve learned so much, met many new people and it’s so rewarding to know I’m helping preserve these trees for future generations.”
I track nature’s changes – Sally Cunningham
As a volunteer with the Woodland Trust’s Nature’s Calendar scheme, Sally spends her days paying close attention to the subtle changes happening to nature. From the first buds of spring to the wildlife sightings heralding in autumn, Sally records every little change to help the Woodland Trust track the changing season’s effects.
“As a child I kept a nature diary and as a professional gardener I’ve always kept a gardening diary, so looking out for these things is as natural to me as reading a cereal packet. I keep a paper recording of everything I see – such as trees flowering or the first swallow of the year – and send this to the Woodland Trust every few weeks throughout the year. They then compile this information with that of other Nature’s Calendar volunteers to record climate change and track things such as species’ decline. Documenting this helps me as a gardener and I like the fact it’s going to the greater good, as you never know when our records might come in useful.”
I’m a tree disease alert – Liz Ramsey
With the newspapers reporting concerns about the likes of as dieback, which is killing off our British ash trees, Liz is volunteering for a special project watching the spread of tree disease. Having been trained in how to spot 20 of the most common tree diseases in this country, as well as ones currently not on these shores, Liz regularly checks up on trees in her area to monitor if they’ve been affected by disease.
“I work in a ten-mile radius around my house and if I see a tree I think is diseased, I take photos and try to identify what’s wrong with it before reporting to the Woodland Trust.
This information helps the Trust identify the spread of disease across the country, as well as keeping an eye on if foreign diseases have spread to this country.
“I’m glad to be a volunteer as it combines my love of walking and the countryside and I feel like I’m contributing something to society.”
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