A year among the oaks

January, 2021, a new year, and the bright sun made me forget the rain and sleet in my face as I cycled out to the Woods. This large oak seems to dominate the stand but by the summer the younger ash and sycamore around were clearly out-growing it and the oak almost disappeared amongst their greenery.

An oak had come down in late 2020. The bluebell bulbs were trying to adjust to their new orientation and a few just about managed to flower, but over the year the soil and bulbs crumbled off. The main trunk almost disappeared in the summer under a wave of goosegrass, only to emerge again in the autumn. The durability of the heartwood will keep it recognisable for many years yet.

By February the spring flowers – celandines, primroses, anemones – were starting to show but the oaks were still in winter undress. A tree by a ride held its branches high; over the summer a major limb sheered off; similar branch falls happened to other trees over the year. Such limbs often retained their dried, shrivelled leaves for months after they had fallen.

March, and the blackthorn was coming into bloom, the beech buds were opening, but little movement from the oaks. In April the sycamore was more than half out, as the oaks were just greening up: “laggard to come, laggard to go”. Still, it was ahead of the ash.

A storm in May brought down an oak across First Turn ride as well as stripping off much of the new growth throughout the Woods.

Not so flaming June, with July not much better: the trees were in full canopy but some of the oaks looked rather moth-eaten. There is though a good cohort of planted oaks, both as stands and free-grown trees to form the next generation.

There are few apparently self-sown trees less than 100 years old. One in a gap proved to be a “phoenix tree” – regrowth from fallen tree that was obviously still attached at its roots.

August brought spangle galls and mildew particularly on the lammas growth.  A seedling that had managed to establish was similarly covered by fungus, but it probably got eaten by the muntjac anyway. The oaks looked better in September, but the dead branches on many of the ash were very noticeable. The autumn colours were starting to show. Not that many acorns this year.

In October most of the ash leaves and about half the sycamore had fallen; the beech was still in leaf but orange-yellow. The oaks remained fairly green, but by November were down to half canopy and what remained was largely dark-golden. A mini-tornado brought down hazel and sallows across one of the rides, but no significant oak damage seen.

December – the Broad Oak which is believed to be the oldest tree in the Woods has lived another year.

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