Tuesday, 27 June 2017


Mayow Park has an impressive number of pollarded boundary oaks, planted between 250 and 300 years ago to mark field boundaries, before the existence of the public park we know today.
Boundary oaks indicate a once common farming practice to mark land and field boundaries in the same way as walls and fences.

Pollarding is a pruning method used for centuries to manage trees. The upper branches are removed when the tree is still young and in the case of these ancient boundary oaks they develop new upward-growing branches which over the centuries become as thick as mature trees and look like respectable tree trunks in their own right.
 Daniel Greenwood (from Sydenham Hill Wood, a stone’s throw from our park) has written about boundary and pollard oaks in nearby areas and you can read his fascinating article about some of the trees here:  https://danieljamesgreenwood.com/tag/boundary-oak-trees/
 So Mayow’s ancient oaks reflect past local land management, while providing habitats for a large number of flora and fauna today. Birds, small mammals and invertebrates make their homes in the hollows, fungi and mosses find somewhere to grow. The trees contribute to the character of the park and park users have often said that the Mayow trees are valued in making the park landscape so special.
When a lovely tree that has stood for centuries loses a major limb many of us express sadness, as happened to a pollarded oak in Mayow Park on 19th May 2017. A local resident posted a photo to Friends of  Mayow Park Facebook group, thus alerting park users and the park maintenance team.

Tree alert. Photo by K Andreakou
The tree that lost a limb had the widest girth of any of the ancient trees in the park as measured on a tree walk in 2016.  Word quickly spread. Soon adults and children were seen clambering over the fallen limb and around its broad branches,  enjoying the opportunity to get close and personal.   A tree that probably few had noticed became a celebrity overnight. It was lovely to see how people engaged with the tree. But current concerns about health and safety, with the risk of someone falling and injuring themselves, was too great. Something had to be done.                                                                                                            
Clambering around a fallen tree
Heavy branches of the fallen limb hidden by dense foliage           
Within a week a team of arboriculturalists from Sevenoaks arrived to make the broken limb ‘safe’. 
photo K Andreakou
Photo K Andreakou
Photo K Andreakou
These guys are clearly skilled at their job.  They explained their intention to leave most of the thicker branches on the ground to create wildlife habitats. Some of the thinner branches were taken to use as path edge markers along the woodchip path adjacent to the dawn redwood tree. Other branches were relocated by volunteers from Friends of  Mayow Park into a locked woodland nature area for wildlife, out of reach of human interference. And the thinner branches were shredded.

Broken limb still attached to parent tree by a small fragment of wood and bark

Concerns were raised by park users: maybe this tree is diseased because the heartwood of the broken limb was powdery brown sawdust? 

Powdery hollow heartwood

Without scientific knowledge about ancient oaks, I am inclined to the view that the collapsed limb may be due to old age, to the natural hollowing out of the inner trunk and to being a pollard with heavy limbs that lean out from the tree. I hope someone with greater knowledge can come forward to suggest some reasons for this fail. Meanwhile, the exposed inner core can provide a home to solitary bees, beetles and other invertebrates while the tree continues to live.
Looking around at other ancient oaks in Mayow Park, regular park users will recall that in July last year a mature oak split in two and needed urgent surgery. It now stands as a monolith tree where the whole crown was removed. Tree surgeons pruned it to remain standing as a monolith tree, allowing natural decay processes to continue for wildlife. Remarkably, it survives and has started producing new growth with side branches.
Not far from the monolith tree is the ‘lightning tree’. Hit by lightning a few decades ago, it lost most of its crown, thus exposing its hollow interior. It continues to survive, with growth only on one side of the trunk. 

These individual ancient trees contribute to the value of the park. Regular visitors recognise them, plants and animals colonise them and they recall land management history as pollarded and boundary oaks. 

(Photos by K Andreakou and A Sheridan)

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