Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Avoiding Giants

I was walking through a local wood on Saturday afternoon when I spotted something strange. It looked almost like an immense pair of antlers emerging from the forest floor. On closer inspection, it turned out to be a yew-tree which had somehow been split in half where its twin trunks emerged from a common root.  So precise was the split that each half looked the mirror-image of the other, right down to the half-disc of roots torn from the ground. It's one of the stranger things I've ever encountered in the natural world. It looked as if the tree had been hewn in half by a gigantic sword stroke.

I suppose lightning is the obvious candidate, but there is no evidence of scorching anywhere on the bark. A number of trees have blown over in this particular stretch of woodland, so it would seem the twin trunks had simply finally become too much of a burden for their short supporting bole, and been wrenched apart in a winter storm. That they would fall away quite so symmetrically is a curiosity, though.

Among the more impressive of the other arboreal casualties since my last visit was this venerable and massive old beech:

That is one hell of a log, and a salutary reminder why it is never wise to shelter under a tree during a storm. Though I suppose feuding giants can't absolutely be ruled out as a cause, in which event I'm not sure what you can do to stay out of harm's way, other than run for it.


Struan said...

The Yew looks like it may well have started life as two saplings alongside each other. That would explain the lack of raw wood in the split and the clean division of the root ball.

Grown out beech pollards (this looks like one) are known for dropping huge limbs. If not re-pollarded, the branches get so thick that cutting them back can easily kill the tree. Then you have a choice of risking killing it by pollarding, or waiting for the branches to get so thick and heavy they just peel off the bole, sometimes splitting it to the base. Epping Forest is full of these dilemmas, having been left unpollarded since WWII.

Both of these trees may well survive, if left alone by tidy-minded land managers.

Mike C. said...


Not tempted by the brawling giants explanation, then?

Yes, Spearywell Wood (near Mottisfont) is an odd mix of regimented conifer planting and neglected broadleaf woodland. I presume the Forestry Commission took it over, at least in part, from some negligent former owner at some point, hence all the grown-out pollards. Deer love it, but birds don't, so much.

I suspect rising water tables may also be contributing to the large number of felled trees -- we had a big one go over in the copse behind our house in a wind last month, the roots just seem to have lost traction in the wet ground.


Struan said...

It's interesting that the angry giant / early church thing is so prevalent, at least across northern Europe. I've heard it as an 'explanation' of glacial erratics in the UK, Germany and Sweden. At one time, there must have been thousands of giants hurling rocks all over the place.

It's even more interesting how often 'mismanaged' woodlands are just those that don't look like what we expect a woodland to look like. Ugly trees are good for wildlife.

Seems churlish to complain about rising water tables, after so many years of aquifer panic.