Dec 21 2018

Acorns to Ancients – Judy takes on stork role for Cadzow acorns!

Judy Dowling is, as always on a mission!  She is passionate about trees and her latest spin off from her role as Lead Ancient Tree Verifier for Scotland has been to collect acorns from the ancient Cadzow oaks on Chatelherault Country Park near Glasgow, and to share them out amongst willing recipients!

Judy has written article for us about her adventures.  It’s an absolutely fascinating and heartwarming read!:

Acorns to Ancients….

In 2012, as Lead Verifier for Scotland for the Ancient Tree Inventory, I came across an old book on trees which mentioned the ancient Cadzow oak trees near Hamilton, South Lanarkshire – over 300 of them!

I checked that they weren’t recorded for the ATI (apart from a few on public land, part of Chatelherault Park). This set in motion a search for a way to get in touch with the land owner, to get permission to go in and record them all. Jill Butler, Head of Conservation, informed me that she had seen them on a visit with the Ancient tree Forum, and knew that the SNH had been in and studied the trees. They were very generous in helping me to get access to the trees.
After getting permission from the owner, I managed to call in there one day on my way home from Yorkshire – and arrived in a full white-out blizzard! But on seeing over 200 ancient oaks in just one of the fields, I was lost….I wondered in and out of them in a daze, until I could barely see for the dark, and committed myself to ensuring that these incredible oaks should ALL be recorded and put onto the ATI database as soon as possible (it was love at first sight!).


The Cadzow Oaks in a snowy blizzard!


I set about organising a recording day with others from the Woodland Trust. This happened to land on Comic Relief Day in 2013 – so I decided not to let such an opportunity slip, and turned up with a red nose and many arms to twist….and a mission to record as many of the trees as possible that day – and boy was it some day. The temperature was Baltic – a windchill factor of  minus 5C or below and horizontal sleet for most of the day. Wales and Dumfries were cut off completely with snowdrifts but as luck would have it, we were just a few miles north of the snowline, so able to start my mission to get all of the trees recorded. I recorded 60+ trees before we all had to give up with the freezing cold before hyperthermia set in. I raised nearly £400 from friends, relatives and colleagues too!


However, so many ancient trees take more than a few hours in a blizzard to record, so I then organised several more visits there, to complete the recording of them all. This included a ravine with 38 trees in it, all mapped by the SNH, which was extremely useful, but very tricky to achieve!   Various friends and some local volunteers helped in this mission, and we were amazed at the amount of acorns on these trees that autumn; they were laden, even though some of them are believed to date from the time of King David of Scotland in 1300’s. It seemed such a waste of such seeds from such amazing trees –  every one hollow and ancient, and unique for Scotland. I related this to Jill Butler, and she told me of a small scheme started in England previously, which delivered acorns from the ancient Sherwood oaks to a prison in Doncaster, in my native Yorkshire. I got in touch with them, and they were very helpful in advising me how to go about achieving something similar with the Cadzow oaks.




In 2015 I took a small gang of friends in to collect as many acorns as we could, having first contacted two local prisons – one for women near Stirling and the other an open prison near Dundee. These were both keen to help out by taking the acorns and planting them up and growing them on, so they could be used in historic planting, or sold for their own profit.


Sadly that was not a good year for these trees to fruit, and we only collected a small amount of acorns from the Cadzow oaks – but as the prisons were so keen I managed to get some extra ones from the Sherwood oaks, which conversely had had a decent year!




This year (2018), I enquired as to how the trees were doing with the farmer who cares for the land there, and he said there were some acorns again after a few very lean years, so 3 of us went in to collect what we could and this time there were hundreds, if not thousands, most already blown off the trees in recent gales, and most were shooting already! It only took an hour or so to collect over 500 acorns, and these were duly delivered to the Open prison, and also to a newly opened Therapy Garden in Dundee for ex-servicemen with mental health issues. (The women’s prison is in limbo just now with a proposed move so sadly couldn’t help this time).




Cadzow acorns for the Dundee Therapy Garden


Most of these acorn saplings will be used in a planting scheme in 2024 to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the Frigate Unicorn which is one the oldest ships of its type and age known to still be afloat, and is anchored in Dundee’s Victoria Dock. The Unicorn is made of strong oak planks, so to celebrate its life with new oak tree plantings on nearby land on the estuary is something very suited to these saplings. Hopefully with their provenance from such historic trees, they too will live long and strong, for many hundreds of years….


Judy Dowling


Lead Volunteer Ancient Tree Verifier for Scotland

1 Comment
  • KylieHarrison Mellor

    Brilliant work and a great blog, Judy. It’s fantastic to have an overview of everything you have achieved in 2018. Looking forward to seeing what trees are discovered in 2019!

    January 2, 2019 at 9:16 am

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