Seeing the Trees for the Woods

by Rich Howorth Author - Graham Wellfare Trees

Our Biosphere’s environment is notable more for its open rolling downland landscapes of chalk grassland and farmland, rather than for its enclosed woodland areas which mostly lie just north of the downs and cover less than 10% of the countryside area of the Biosphere. Individual trees are perhaps the most significant in our area, for their superlative qualities: from the rarest specimens of the 19,000-strong National Elm Collection in Brighton & Hove through to the tallest native tree in Britain at Newtimber Hill near Poynings. Even at Stanmer Park, which is known and loved for its Great Wood, there are some fantastic old parkland trees including tall cedars, an ancient yew in the churchyard, and an alphabetical arboretum collection of conifer trees especially located just beneath the wood. The National Trust (NT) owns and manages much of the best and most visited downland in the Brighton & Lewes Downs Biosphere, including a number of woodlands – one of which is especially notable for its remarkable trees. The ancient woods which lie on the northern face of Tallest Tree beech Newtimber (lr)Newtimber Hill, part of NT’s Devil’s Dyke Estate, play host to a majestic beech tree which earlier this year was declared the tallest native tree in Britain. Measuring a staggering 44m tall (144 feet), the champion tree beat the previous incumbent – another beech tree in Gloucestershire – by a couple of metres! Thought to be almost 200 years old, it is now reaching the upper limit of a beech tree’s life expectancy. The discovery was made by Dr Owen Johnson, the honourable registrar for the Tree Register, who said of his find: “It's amazing how you can go on discovering marvellous trees, almost on your doorstep.  It's also strange and fascinating that this one beech, which must have very good genes, has managed to grow so much taller than all of its rivals in the same conditions.” These woods, known as Newtimber Holt, also contain Newtimber ancient lime tree NT IMG_1817deep within them an ancient coppiced  large-leaved lime tree that has over 30 large trunks with a diameter of about 10 metres, and is possibly over 1000 years old! However it’s almost impossible to find, as it lies on a very steep, inaccessible slope – hence is probably best left alone!   Hence whilst the Biosphere’s woods are wonderful places to visit and enjoy, it is perhaps the individual trees that lie within them and beyond them that are the greatest treasure to uncover. Graham Wellfare National Trust Ranger, Devil’s Dyke Estate
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