Field Event Reports

Thursday 30 March: Broad Arboretum

It was a fine early spring day

What a contrast in days! Originally scheduled for the previous Wednesday, but postponed due to forecast bad weather (and yes it did hack down with rain that day), the rescheduled walk brought a bright, breezy, but warmish day. Sadly only four members, including our leader Michael Bloom, could make it, but a pleasant walk was promised as we gathered at 10.30 am in the Earth Trust main car park. And indeed an informative and enjoyable visit ensued.

The Broad Arboretum contains every tree and shrub species native to Oxfordshire, along with recent introductions such as Walnut, Sycamore and Chestnut; 49 species in total along with a traditional English hedge. Planted in 1998, the Arboretum was named after Ken Broad of the Oxfordshire Woodland Group (OWG). The OWG worked in partnership with the Earth Trust to design and plant this collection of trees.

We left the Earth Trust Centre and walked the15 minutes to the Arboretum, along a grass track that bordered fields. On entering the Arboretum we followed one of the meandering grassy paths to start our walk. Specimens of each species of tree or shrub were clustered together, sometimes with up to 10 examples of each. We stopped at each group to examine the specimens, sometimes with the aid of a magnifying glass for detailed features on twigs, buds and emerging leaves, while Michael explained the key features. Beside each group of trees or shrubs there is a wooden post detailing the common and Latin names.

Michael had done a massive amount research before the visit, mainly to show us winter characteristics of the trees and shrubs. As it turned out a week was a long time and in the intervening time, spring had sprung so many of the specimens were in leaf and flower bud, with some like the Sloe in full flower and Cherry even over.

The Arboretum is relatively young, so most of the tree species were not mature, but many of the shrubs had matured. While all species seemed to be doing well considering some were not in their natural environment, a few seemed to be struggling, and indeed the Elms were dead and most surprisingly the Elders were in a bad state. In contrast, the Juniper was really thriving, considering most of Oxfordshire's wild examples are not. At the lower end of the site, it was clear that the Ash, both those planted and the mature specimen in the bordering hedgerow, had disseminated their 'keys' widely and many hundreds of saplings were emerging in the 'wrong' place - in one patch they had been cut back to stumps.

As time approached 12.30 we left the Arboretum to make our way back up the hill to the car park. While the focus of the visit was the trees, our group was also rewarded with some other signs of Spring, with the first Swallows seen, a Wheatear showing on a fence and out in the meadow, and Chiffchaffs continually calling. A pair of stunningly coloured Yellow Hammers adorned a lone Hawthorn, which also housed Linnets and Chaffinches.

The expertise on Michael was well complemented by the natural history knowledge of both Tony and John, making this a most educating and enjoyable visit.

Report: Graham Bateman

Michael Bloom, Graham Bateman, Tony Rayner, John Killick