May 01 Torthworth’s trees By Judith

Tortworth Churchyard in South Gloucestershire is home to one of Britain’s most ancient sweet chestnut trees, so old in fact, that the first commemorative plaque about the tree is itself 200 years old. It reads:

This tree supposed to be
Six Hundred Years Old 1st January 1800

May Man Still Guard thy Venerable form,
From the Rude Blasts and Tempestuous Storm
Still mayest thou Flourish through Succeeding time,­
And Last Long Last the Wonder of the Clime.

The chestnut measures some 12 metres in girth and according to legend it was planted around 800CE during the reign of the Anglo-Saxon King Egbert of Wessex, grandfather of Alfred the Great.

It’s a magnificent tree and its heritage would undoubtedly have been known to the 3rd Earl of Ducie, the man responsible for planting the magnificent trees in Tortworth Arboretum in the 19th century. Arguably, the Tortworth Chestnut is in better shape than some of the trees in the arboretum, which was sadly neglected for decades in the 20th century.

The fortunes of the arboretum trees, however, are improving. Bec Cork and Jacob Stowe lead work parties of volunteers and for the last few years have been managing this neglected arboretum, which in its day was a serious rival to Westonbirt a few miles away.

In April SWOG members enjoyed a second visit to Tortworth and it was great to see the difference they have made. Tortworth has more than 300 rare and champion trees, some of which are hidden by rhododendron, bamboo or brambles. Gradually, with the help of the Tortworth goats and a great deal of work the undergrowth is being cleared. It’s slow progress and even the classification is not always straightforward, although Tortworth is fortunate to have enlisted the services of dendrologist Tony Titchen. Exotic species of oak, larch, maple, ash and walnut, redwood, chestnut, cedar, hickory, and birch, flourish despite years of under-management. There’s a great deal still to do – take a look at Tortworth’s website if you would like to help out.

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