The stories behind Shamley Green's trees
SHAMLEY GREEN TREES THEN AND NOW
Many of the trees we see around the village greens today have been planted either in commemoration of historic events or in celebration of the life of some of our notable residents. Some have origins lost in the mists of time!
In the past Shamley Green was very much part of a rural economy. Right up to the 1950s villagers exercised commoners' rights to graze livestock on the greens: native elms, oaks and wild service trees would have provided shelter and shade, and even fodder - in times of drought it was common to lop branches off trees for the animals to browse on the foliage. And, by reducing the canopy, the tree roots would cope better until more normal water supplies resumed.
OS map of Shamley Green dated 1898 -note two ponds which are no longer there!
Unfortunately old maps don't record these trees with any accuracy and can't be relied upon to tell us much about them so we only have knowledge in any detail about quite recent arrivals on the scene. For the older ones there are many theories!
TREES ON MALT HOUSE GREEN and DUCK POND GREEN
There follows a brief history of some of the trees around the Duck Pond Green and by the Malt House, to the best of our knowledge and with thanks to Michael Harding for historical information. The numbers are the reference in our inventory. The dates given are when we know, or think, they were planted:
Very old OAK no. 29 on Malt House Green -1660 to 1780?
Hollow trunk of old oak no.29
Many believe that the oak by the Malt House (shown above, viewed from Woodhill Lane) is the oldest tree in our village: it’s known as the 'Tudor Oak', and it's gnarled and lumpy with plenty of holes and cracks and crevices for animals to use for shelter. If you go round to the south side, facing away from the road, it is now completely hollow! Hollowing of the trunk as a tree ages is entirely normal and is not a sign of ill health. It is the deadwood in the centre of the tree that is slowly decayed by fungi which rarely, if at all, colonise the living sapwood. The hollowing of the trunk (and the shedding and decay of dead branches associated with retrenchment) may help the tree to live for longer, by releasing minerals that were ‘locked up’ in the wood so they are available for the tree to re-use. Unfortunately as this tree ages there will almost certainly be a policy of removing dead wood for safety reasons, so this benefit will be lost unless the lopped branches are left on the ground to decay naturally.
We have recently registered the Tudor Oak with the Woodland Trust for inclusion in their inventory of Ancient Trees in the UK (see below). It certainly seems pretty old, and although its girth of 443cm at 1.5m above ground level isn't huge by oak standards it may have been pollarded in the past which would result in a smaller girth for its age. However, its crown is still quite full and there doesn't seem to be a lot of dead wood in the canopy, so maybe as oaks go it could be a relative youngster: using the Woodland Trust Oak Age Estimator we have arrived at something over 232 years old, but it could have been there right back in the 1600s.
The Woodland Trust inspector has assessed it as a 'Veteran Tree' - i.e. a tree that has developed some of the features found on ancient trees but is usually only in its second or mature stage of life. Click here for the report.
Ancient and veteran trees are a valuable habitat and they are important for biodiversity:
see https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/media/1836/what-are-ancient-trees.pdf for more information and tips on recognising an ancient or veteran tree.
HORSE CHESTNUTS nos. 46-51, on Duck Pond Green
Horse chestnuts, now in decline, lining the B2128 into Shamley Green
The horse chestnuts which are such a distinctive feature along the main road into the village are sadly in decline and will have to be felled in the next few years before they start to shed branches and become a danger, although no date has yet been fixed for this. One has had to be felled already, no.46, which was cut down in 2022.
There is debate about when these trees were planted - they are very different in size, so you may think that some are older than others, but it could be that they were all planted at the same time and the differences are due to different environmental conditions. We will only know for sure once they are cut down and we have some rings to count!
It is probable that their current ill health is due to a combination of adverse environmental conditions, and possibly a fungus such as Phytophthora, to which horse chestnuts are particularly susceptible.
Pieter Betlem's BLACK MULBERRY no. 52 on Duck Pond Green, planted 2000
The black mulberry now on Duck Pond Green opposite the village shop replaced one lost in the 1987 storm. It was planted in 2000 and dedicated to Pieter Betlem in recognition of the great contributions he made to village life - he was mayor of Waverley 1999-2000 and lived in Shamley Green with his wife Doreen for over 30 years. Not only serving on the Borough Council, he was also very involved with other projects such as the Wonersh village shop and the Cranleigh Agricultural show, and was a volunteer tree warden looking after our village trees.
The black mulberry (Morus nigra) is an interesting tree, originating in the Middle East. Many were imported into Britain in the 17th century in the hope that they would be useful in the cultivation of silkworms, but this met with little success because silkworms prefer the white mulberry (M. alba).
Pieter and Doreen Betlem in 2021
However, the plantings have left a legacy of large old trees in many country house gardens and there are records of some very old black mulberries ih the UK, some even pre-dating the silkworm experiment, such as a healthy specimen at Syon House planted in 1548! For a fascinating account of London's mulberry history click here.
In the more exposed environment of Duck Pond Green we may not see such great longevity unfortunately, and early in 2023 our tree was looking decidedly sad after a terribly dry summer in 2022 and a very difficult winter with alternating extremes of cold and mild weather. Many trees in the area have struggled in fact, and are showing signs of stress as they come into leaf in 2023.
Black mulberry no.52, coming into leaf late (16th May 2023) with epicormic growth, a sign of stress, and looking better 16th June 2023 (right)
Queen's Green Canopy 'REBONA' ELMS nos. 124-128 on Duck Pond Green, planted 2023
These 5 young elm trees, a hybrid elm variety called 'Rebona', have been planted in the intervening gaps to take over when the horse chestnuts have gone.
They have been generously sponsored by Sue and Alan Pavia, who have seen the old horse chestnuts almost daily for 50 years as they come and go from their home by the Village Shop, and love the idea of their four grandsons watching these saplings growing into magnificent trees in the years to come. The new elms have been included in the UK-wide Queen's Green Canopy initiative.
The Rebona elm’s parents are the Japanese elm Ulmus davidiana var. japonica and the Siberian elm Ulmus pumila. It has proved to be a very successful street tree in Europe, and is highly resistant to Dutch elm disease, (see below), so after a very long time without them we may eventually have elms in the landscape again. Rebona is also heat tolerant and wind resistant and it has proven to be resistant to flooding, so a good choice to resist climate change!
Dutch elm disease
Dutch elm disease is caused by the fungus Ophiostoma novo-ulmi which is spread by elm bark beetles. It got its name from the team of Dutch pathologists who carried out research on the disease in the 1920s. Elm bark beetles breed in the bark of cut, diseased or otherwise weakened elm trees then disperse to healthy elm trees where they feed.
'Rebona' elm no.128
As they feed, the spores of O. novo-ulmi are introduced into the xylem (channels for water and nutrients) of the healthy tree, releasing toxins and causing the vessels to block and the tree to wilt and die.
Since its introduction to the UK in the 1960s, Dutch elm disease has killed millions of our elm trees. It has devastated populations in mainland Europe and North America too. Shamley Green, which once had many English elms, had successive waves of infection spread though the elm population and now has none of any size, and any surviving suckers generally succumb to the fungus once they reach about 20 years old.