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Growing Trees for a changing landscape – seed gathering at historic Redgrave Park

Strike a spade into the earth, slip in a seedling and a little bit of landscape history is made. If the seedling comes not just from native but very local stock, valuable genetic resources are conserved. Thousands of trees have been planted under the auspices of the STWN and an increasing number will come from the network’s own tree nurseries in the future, but a little cell grown oak from Tree Warden and Nurse David Appleton’s 2020 sowing enjoyed a very special start this October.

At the joint STWN and Tree Council event – Growing Trees for a changing landscape – seed gathering at historic Redgrave Park – we were joined by a BBC Countryfile camera crew with presenter Joe Crowley. The cameras were there as part of Countyfile’s #PlantBritain campaign and our gracious, enthusiastic host for the day was Redgrave’s owner, Anne Topham. Anne is a keen tree champion and planter working closely with Tree Wardens David Appleton and John Preston. She introduced Redgrave, a Capability Brown landscape with lake and many choice ancient trees that have survived the park’s long history. The trees have not always enjoyed the kindest of attention, especially during the testing conditions of World War II when the need for fuel by billeted officers and POWs led to much loss. Now we knew where we were, Frances Jannaway, STWN coordinator, Tree Warden, Tree Nurse and mastermind behind the event, told us why we were here. This was a chance to restock nurseries with new seeds, learn how to stratify them ready for planting and see the benefits of cell culture on root structures.

Introductions over, as we walked into the park Jon Stokes, Director of Trees, Science and Research at the Tree Council, and founder of the national Tree Warden initiative was immediately into action providing expert commentary and instructions for seed collecting. We paused by a sweet chestnut the central trunk long dead, but a tremendous ring of secondary stems carrying on the life of this beautiful tree. Jon speculated that this was one of the park’s original boundary trees and there was much mirth as STWN’s Fe Morris and Steve Adams of Langham Hall Walled Garden climbed in to measure its girth.

Where 2020 has become renowned as a terrific acorn mast year, with many more acorns than usual, 2021 is part of the resting cycle that follows the trees’ extra efforts. Redgrave’s oaks have not bucked the trend but there were good pickings including the sweet chestnuts, some copper beech, field maple and hornbeam. Redgrave is also home to an old black poplar, its trunk a mass of nobbles and fissures. Once common in Suffolk’s wetlands this species is now scarce. Important then to conserve by taking cuttings and Steve stepped up to give an instant demonstration. Help for the future has also come from Anne’s planting of a partner tree to ensure that the wind pollinated male and female catkins produced on these separate trees can together create new life.

In the afternoon, National Tree Warden Scheme Coordinator at the Tree Council, Sam Village, started off the seed preparation and planting session equipped with a potato masher and washing up bowl. Like good eggs, viable seeds sink: a handy test for larger species such as the sweet chestnut and beech. And the masher? We may collect but we don’t eat as other animals do. For those seeds such as hawthorn that would pass through a bird and be ‘pooped out’ as Sam delicately put it, a bit of a helping hand is required. Next came useful tips on compost mixes (to include grit or perlite), overwintering techniques to stratify the seeds and mimic nature’s own methods of cooling and dampness to break seed dormancy, and ways of keeping out hungry mice and voles with mesh. All practical, achievable and clearly articulated.

As we got ready for the day’s finale the clouds swept in along the lake, darkened the sky and dumped their watering rain. We took shelter near another of Redgrave’s exceptional trees. This one a small leaved lime, growing as henge, where we passed the time climbing in of this fabulous natural structure and watching rainbows. Being in nature encourages an appreciation of different measures of time, the duration of a shower or the briefness of light and moisture combining in the sky, or the lifespan of a tree.

When the rain stopped we gathered as Joe made made that spade strike and slipped in David’s oak. The day had come to a close, but now a new tree connects the soil below to the air above. It will be protected with a stake, guard and mulch mat as it will in time, hopefully for generations, help nurture and protect this landscape.

Click here for the episode of Countryfile. The segment of the show featuring Redgrave, the Tree Council and STWN members, especially Frances, David and Fe Morris (though all were resplendent in our new official fleeces) is at c. 16m30s.

Helen Bynum

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