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Suffolk: Hope for trees struck down by deadly disease

11:00 09 February 2013

Dave Metson, who is in charge of propregation at Botanica, holds handful of acorns.

Dave Metson, who is in charge of propregation at Botanica, holds handful of acorns.

Archant

FROM the smallest acorn, grows the mightiest oak.

And so it is fitting that when one of the tallest and most historic trees in Suffolk is felled because of a deadly oak disease it will be replaced by a seedling grown from its own fruit.

The Queen Oak on Great Glemham Farms, near Saxmundham – one of nine so-called Crabbe oaks said to be standing when the poet and clergyman George Crabbe lived in the area – is due to be removed this month.

But landowners, who say the felling highlights the cultural impact acute oak decline (AOD) could have on the Suffolk landscape, are now working with a company that specialises in growing native plants to create a seedling bank of the estate’s most important veteran trees.

Jason Gathorne-Hardy, of White House Farm, said he had started the project with John Rose from Botanica in Campsea Ashe, Woodbridge, after discussing the threat of AOD to older trees.

Mr Gathorne-Hardy explained: “We were replanting hedges and we started using Botanica because they supply only native stock. John Rose, who runs it, has a very strong interest in finding local seed stock and while we were talking about about AOD he just said ‘We need to plant lots of new trees’.

“That was the seed of building up a local seedling bank of native trees from the area.”

He added: “We identified the trees belonging to this Crabbe Oak group and he has been round and collected acorns and berries. He planted them about 18 months ago and he already has the first seedlings from that project.”

The 44-year-old said the initiative is about creating hope at a time when veteran trees in Suffolk and Essex are at risk of AOD, a disease experts fear could be as devastating as chalara dieback of ash and Dutch elm disease.

He added: “This is about collecting seedlings so that John can build up a nursery of them and that they are available for stocking locally.”

Mr Gathorne-Hardy has also been behind another mission to save the veteran trees for posterity. In 2012 the Alde Valley Spring Festival, which he founded, commissioned artist Sarah Pirkis to produce a series of limited edition etchings following the theme of Crabbe’s Oaks.

She has produced a series of ten images of trees that punctuate the landscape in and around Great Glemham in the Upper Alde Valley, including The Queen Oak.

Mr Gathorne-Hardy said: “The idea was to mark these trees in time, just in case any of them disappeared. The thing that has been quite poignant is that I never had any idea that any of them would actually go within a year of doing the project. So the etching has become a visual record of these trees. Out of the ten trees, one has gone.”

Although AOD has been known for a number of years, with some experts claiming they had seen cases 14 years ago, the exact cause, although thought to be bacterial, is not yet known.

Symptoms of AOD include dark weeping patches on the trunk, severe crown deterioration and D-shaped exit holes caused by the Agrilus biuttatus beetle.

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