Condolences for Wales’ National Tree

You could say that the Pontfadog Oak, which has catastrophically collapsed and died, deserved the title of Wales’ National Tree. A more historic tree would be hard to find. The Welsh Prince Owain Gwynedd rallied his army under this tree in 1157 before taking on, and defeating, the English King Henry ll at the battle of Crogen nearby. The tree is also referred to by George Borrow in his book ‘Wild Wales’ in 1862.

The Pontfadog oak with guardians past and present - 23rd June 2010

The Pontfadog oak with guardians past and present – 23rd June 2010

kinghenryII

The losing King (Henry II) in the battle for which the Pontfadog Oak is famous has a long lasting memorial in a French Abbey…. what for the Pontfadog Oak…?

The Pontfadog Oak was also larger almost than life. It had a massive girth of nearly 13 metres making it the third fattest of both of the two native oaks (sessile and pedunculate) in the UK. Some experts thought it might be well over 1,000 years old.

What a sad day. No wonder ancient tree enthusiasts are calling for funding for a state resting place for its remains. Why not in recognition of its long service to its country? Every day of its long life it has provided oxygen, cleaned the air, provided one of the most important habitats for biodiversity and clearly for hundreds of years has been an icon in this part of Wales. Its record on the Ancient Tree Hunt database will now have to be amended to ‘lost’ and a new national champion for Wales identified. 

This venerable old tree has certainly had a lot to cope with over the past few weeks, with heavy snow, a prolonged cold snap and then last night’s high winds. But the Woodland Trust (Coed Cadw) believes that this sad case illustrates how badly we are failing to provide adequate protection for our ancient trees at present. 

Just last December, Coed Cadw presented a petition, bearing over 5,300 names, to the Welsh Assembly, as part of the campaign calling for better protection for our ancient, veteran and heritage trees and in particular, support for the owners of trees in caring for them, just as the owners of listed buildings can receive financial support. 

Also last year, a group of experts from the Ancient Tree Forum visited the Pontfadog Oak and put together a list of actions that they believed could help conserve it. Although the total cost was only around £5,700, these actions were never taken as no funding source was available. No one will ever know whether taking these actions would have saved this tree.

Moray Simpson, Tree Officer for Wrexham, said: “I’m absolutely gutted. The only good thing that may come out of this tragic loss is that the Welsh Government will now hopefully put in place a system for assistance and grant aid for such iconic trees.”

The Pontfadog oak, fallen April 17th 2013

The Pontfadog oak, fallen April 17th 2013

He added: “For such a valuable tree, it would be good to try and save the fallen parts of the tree for posterity and to show future generations what we had and what was lost due to the nation not doing enough to save these trees.” Others have called for some of the live material to be collected for grafting or micro-propogation. Fortunately some far sighted people previously collected acorns and have grown on some saplings with some of this oaks genes. Long may they live too. 

Image: R. McBride

The King is dead, long live the King. 

Everyone at the Woodland Trust is devastated to see this wonderful tree lost like this. If you feel the same, feel free to leave your condolences in the comments below…

Jill Butler, Conservation Adviser (Ancient Trees)

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About Kaye Brennan

Senior Campaigner (Policy & Advocacy) for the Woodland Trust and Administrator, 'Woodland Matters' blog
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73 Responses to Condolences for Wales’ National Tree

  1. Ceinwen Partridge says:

    Thank you all for educating me re Ancient trees especially this ancient oak, dead it is but still providing for living creatures, so much more than just ‘a tree’ !

  2. Elizabeth says:

    Another part of history gone, how many more.

    • Harry Potter says:

      History has always gone Elizabeth, that is how something becomes history. A tree is a living thing. And all living things die.

  3. Steve Thomas says:

    Hi,
    I haven’t read all the above messages, but I was wondering if anyone had collected acorns from the tree and saved/planted them? That is the surest way of keeping it ‘alive’ and communities might like to have a seedling that could end up being an attraction in its own right – as an offspring of such a famous ‘Welshman’!

  4. Is it actually dead?? Often trees re-grow from the base after falling. Hopefully it will be given the chance to do so instead of being ‘tidied up’. Also, as has been stated, even if it is dead it should be left to rot and provide a habitat for endangered invertebrates and fungi for a few decades or more.

  5. Reblogged this on bespokegreenoak and commented:
    Sad news as one of the Nation’s ancient green monuments is lost forever… Is it just nature taking its course or should we be working to preserve such magnificent specimens as this?

  6. Sian R. says:

    Since funding is often a problem for saving these ancient trees, would it be possible to kick start a Fund with proceeds from several potential sources from the Pontfadog Oak itself? Saplings, cuttings, for example of live items that could be sold. It would then help to spread the great oaks genes across Wales. For those of us father flung, items could be made of the burls, roots and branches, from small disks that could be engraved or have pyrography done on on side to commemorate the life and loss of the tree. A wide range of things could be produced, so that people of vast and small means could all kick in to help save other amasing trees all across Britain. Make the sale international, and expats would add their coin to the effort. The sawdust and wood chips could then be used to help fertilise the saplings growing from the cuttings and acorns and other trees that generations from now could become as historic and important, future history dependant….

    • jillbutleratf says:

      THanks Sian for your suggestion. Funding is a problem but at the moment we are hoping that the Welsh Assembly will step up to the mark and provide a grant service. If it doesnt then we will have to think again.

  7. Susan McConnell says:

    RIP. very sad. As a member of the St. Thomas-Elgin Arbor Week committee (Ontario, Canada) having this happen so close to Arbor Week causes us all to pause.

    • jillbutleratf says:

      Indeed Susan, we dont have Arbor Day in the UK. Instead we have National Tree Week. We would be shocked too if this had happened at the same time as that. It is a catastrophe but we hope that some positives will come out of it.

  8. Jillbutler says:

    Thank you Mr Owl for posting. Lots of us love wood products but what we want is a bit of respect for the diversity of life and space for big old trees for science, biodiversity, history and just to look at their lovely shapes. We really appreciate your thoughts and concerns. Jill

  9. Mr Owl says:

    Why not raise it to form a monument, What a fine big boy oak, shame, you could always drive a steel lined post into the ground, bore a central hole in the old oak, employ a man with a heavy lift arm digger, pivot tree into position, pour a little grouting in to seal the big boy to the S.Steel tube 250 mm dia should do it, then plant acorns around it, the old oak will take centuries to slowly rot, providing food and shelter for the micro ecological inhabitants that live on this old tree still today.
    Use him as a fund raiser to protect the other old Arboriculture, presently at risk of future extreme climatic events and county council like Birmingham, who are on a chainsaw fest 2013. To remove most ancient and mature Arboriculture for fear of the sue risk scenario. They seem to have a wood chip plant connection out of the county, that burns old trees like its free gas, trunk-branch & foliage, free money cash cow. Timber. Amey won a 25 year contract to exploit this wood reserve, there tree surveyors are condemning over >2000 old trees annually, nice if you can dictate your work book, with no photo I’d data in the survey, watch google earth, soon to see the black country, go from green to grey, the concrete jungle just got hotter, air quality reduced, wind velocity amplified, ecological bio diversity crash, climate change increased, milk the timber why you can Birmingham, it’s your last resource, you may as well squander it, why break a habit of a generation.
    Food 4 Thought…

  10. The Oak of Wales

    Sad to see the loss of your tree,
    It brought to mind such majesty,
    While Kings and Queens would take their turns,
    Your mighty Oak stood grand and firm,
    Throughout the years, since distant time,
    Its strength became, noblesse sublime,
    Yet ere your heart should be forlorn,
    Begin anew, the small acorn…..

    RAM

  11. Kathleen Parnanen says:

    Kathleen Parnanen – Canada
    Where I live we lost a huge old tree in our park in a wind storm. Of course, it wasn’t nearly as old as the Wales tree. But a local artist created a large, beautiful carving of a historic scene which is on display in the downtown centre. Something similar could be done with your old tree to preserve it in people’s memory.

  12. Pierre Alleyn, British Columbia, Canada says:

    I’ve just now heard your interview on CBC Radio-Canada. Having been priviledged to walk and wonder through 800+ year old cedar forests here in British Columbia, I can well imagine the depths of Wales’ loss. May this loss cause each of us to plant and nurture a tree in our particular community.

    • Jillbutler says:

      Thank you, Pierre, for writing in our Book of Condolences. For every fallen giant we should plant plenty more trees for one to make it through to ancientness. Jill

  13. Darwin Jensen - Canada says:

    Lovely grand dame of the woods – a friend to all who passed by.

  14. Randall Thomas says:

    I only learned of this mighty oak’s existence today, by way of its loss. Many’s the time I’ve encountered fallen trees in my scrambles in the Canadian Rockies, and I’ve always rested nearby to imagine the ages they’ve seen; contemplated their demise whether by wind, lightning, or simply old age; whispered a farewell to those once mighty beings. They all pale in comparison to the loss to Wales of this mighty tree. Here at the twilight of Earth Day, I go now to listen to Loreena McKennitt’s “Bonny Portmore” by way of honouring the tree’s passing.
    Randall Thomas, Calgary, Alberta, Canada

    • Jillbutler says:

      Thank you for writing in our Book of Condolences. ‘A whispered farewell’ -we like that idea.

  15. A Hale says:

    I’m devastated to hear of the loss of this mighty tree. I hope that the lessons learned from its loss will be heeded to protect the remaining ancient trees in Wales. My suggestion is that some of the wood be used to create benches to mark the place of the mighty Pontfadog Oak where weary travellers can rest and other benches be located throughout Wales to mark sites of significant historical national value that this iconic tree helped keep Welsh.

    • Jillbutler says:

      Thank you for writing in our Book of Condolences. There are some great ideas for use of the wood from the tree. In the meantime some cuttings have been taken to try grafting and then micro propagation. Jill

  16. So sad to hear of the loss of this great tree. I wish I could met a friend beneath its massive boughs. My deepest condolences to the Welsh people.
    L. Pinchin, Winnipeg, MB, Canada

  17. Joanne Chase says:

    What tales that oak could tell—-for so many years it stood the test of time—and now it was laid asunder by heavy wind. I wept for the oak, and I wept for Welsh people—they have lost a part of their history. Perhaps in its death—new life will be born.
    J. Chase, Moncton, NB, Canada

  18. Brian Coates says:

    So sad to see such a wonderful tree come to such a sad end. All trees are wonderful and one such as this tugs at ones heart, they have seen so much during their life it makes us humans feel so insignificant. Love trees

  19. Tony says:

    Never a truer statement, “from little acorns grow Mighty Oaks” or some such. As your readers mourn the loss of such a giant and quite rightfully so, I do wonder how many in society would even give the story a second thought. This article is a good candidate for a proper news item as this beast spanned nearly ten generations.

    • Jill Butler says:

      I think there will be some follow up on this oak and its story, Tony, in the next few weeks. We did ask if we could do an obitury in the Times but apparently they only allow people….It was a mighty oak as you say. We will miss it badly.

  20. Denarsha says:

    Hope someone had collected some of it acorns?!

    • Jill Butler says:

      Yes Denarsha – some far thinking person had collected some and some saplings are in the ground and growing well. Sadly it will take another 1000 years til this tree is replaced…..Jill

  21. Helen Dale says:

    Living in Australia, the thing I miss most about the UK is the wonderful trees, particularly the oaks and chestnuts. Could part of the tree be carved into a miniature replica? And a painting done. Tears for the blessed tree.

    • Jill Butler says:

      Thanks Helen, I know they are very different but I just love the River Red Gums in Australia – they are so special. Still the UK is lucky to have such diversity of trees – species, age and form. There are lots of people discussing the future of the tree – at the moment it looks like it will be re-erected somewhere nearby. But some of the crown could be used for other things like a minature replica. Thanks for your ideas.

  22. Valerie Weber says:

    Oops, chestnut.

  23. Valerie Weber says:

    I remember when the Elizabeth Oak in Greenwich Park fell in high winds. It had a steel girder inside to hold it up – which was not actually attached to the ground! Total incompetence.

    NB I have a book on trees that says it was actually a chestnet… Still, they say Lizzie I picnicked inside.

    • Jill Butler says:

      Thanks Valerie for telling us about this tree – the one in Greenwich is an oak. The remains still sit – so it shows how long oak trees can remain even after they have fallen over. Jill

  24. Craig Jenkins says:

    A sad day for Wales. Something significant should certainly be done with the Oak’s remains, but what…?
    I have an Oak tree I’ve been growing in a pot. I’ve been wanting to ‘set it free’ as it were, but haven’t found the right place. I’d love to donate it to Pontfadog to carry on the tradition for another thousand years. Who would I contact about this? Any ideas?

    RIP Pontfadog Oak

    Craig Jenkins

    • Jill Butler says:

      That is a really great offer Craig. I will mention it to Rob McBride who is an Ancient Tree Hunt verifier but he has been very active in liaising with the owners of the Pontfadog Oak this week. He may be able to facilitate.

    • Rob McBride says:

      Hi Craig, thanks for the offer of the tree but we are still unsure as to what will happen at the site. Things are still so much up-in-the-air, well actually literally up-in-the-air! We are looking at micro-propagation of the tree and will know more when that is tried out.

      • Craig Jenkins says:

        Thank you for responding. Being of Welsh stock myself, I’d love my Oak to go ‘home’ as it where.

  25. Julie Taylor says:

    What a tragedy! very sad :(

    Our ancient trees are part of our spiritual heritage as well as being physical ancient monuments. They connect us to our past in a myriad of ways.

    Could a ‘man-made’ monument be carved from some of the tree perhaps? Maybe sited adjacent to the plaque? It would be good if the tree could be left to ‘lie-in-state’ in situ but I guess it would be vulnerable to treasure hunters.

    I certainly agree with others who feel as much as possible should be done to preserve the memory of this magnificent and historically significant oak – both generating new living stock and making appropriate use of the old tree. I remember seeing material from HMS Victory being used for memorabilia – I think perhaps that feels a bit too commercial, but it may be that some significant items could be produced that will help preserve this tree’s memory for future generations.

    Pontfadog Oak R.I.P.

    • It looks like there are various initiatives underway. We can only hope that this time they can go to a successful outcome. We will hope to keep you posted through this blog site on what happens.

    • Harry Potter says:

      Man made monument from part of the tree a geat idea. And you have a brilliant carver living in Carmarthan. His carvings are on display in towns here and in Wales

  26. Kaye Brennan says:

    Further images added April 19th to show the oak in leaf – happier days with past and present guardians

  27. If at all possible Try and take cuttings / grafting from any young branches so the tree lives on in new trees.

    It is always sad to lose a majestic tree and one with so much history.

    My community lost our oak in about 1910 (Selly Oak). The stump is still in the park and several oaks have been planted across the community in memory.

    • Thank you Claire for telling us about the Selly Oak. Could you add offspring from this tree to the Ancient Tree Hunt database? Or some of them – we would love to track the trees grown from these special acorns over time. Also do add any images of the Selly Oak tree to a record – if there is one there, or add it as a lost tree. We want the ATH database to celebrate what we have but also to commemorate what we have lost.

  28. Would love to see a picture of the oak growing a few years ago

  29. Heel erg…!!! I visit this tree in 2012

    • Yes, we all remember when we visited it. Did you travel to this tree specially to see it? If so we would be interested to know what sort of distance you had to come and from which place. This will help us to show the wider interest outside UK.

  30. Steve Bewers says:

    I hope Daniel is right, though I’d guess that someone has already had a look at the rootstock, it would be interesting to know their findings, it might be possible to promote re-growth, after all this is just part of the wonderful re-cycling that nature carries out by herself if left to herself.
    However the loss of this tree is tragic, ancient trees are symbolic of our links to the past and of our growth into the future, they need far better protection than they have now.

    • Some people are looking into micro-propogation or grafting of the live tissue in the short time that this opportunity remains. This sad occasion is a wake up call for all – there is much that we could all do to raise awareness of the value of these trees and how to care for them. The Ancient Tree Forum’s new management book is on sale and it is hoped that all owners will in time have a copy. However incentives to encourage owners to take the right approach would be a great help.

  31. Harry Potter says:

    Preserve parts if possible yes. Any remaining timber if sound could be sold/auctioned to folk such as wood turners, craftsmen etc. The tree could then ‘live on’ for many more years.

    • Thanks Harry – yes that might be an alternative if local people are unable to secure a place for the whole. Amuch more worthwhile alternative to turning it into firewood.

  32. Daniel J says:

    Trees are not historic buildings. Sooner or later they die and rot and that is the natural way of things. Who knows, if this tree was left in situ it mights send out side shoots and keep growing.

    • People who went out yesterday, including experts from the Ancient Tree Forum, have certainly thought about the possibilities of phoenix regeneration but feedback indicates that it is unlikely. In this case experts did think that something could be done to help the trees roots and buttress area – so it is a shame that these works were not undertaken. There is a larger/ fatter sessile oak, the Morten Oak, which shows that trees can grow bigger if given the right environment.

  33. Tatum says:

    A sad day….losing so much history and such a special ecosystem.

    • Trees were often used as landmarks because they could not be moved. This tree, when alive, was an absolute statement of location. It is such a shame that that is now gone. Lets hope that the plaque that was put up near it in the Queen’s Silver Jubilee year stays put as a long lasting reminder of the place.

  34. Justine Whittern says:

    As a living witness to centuries of history and a natural monument, it supported a rich and equally old ecosystem. As it goes, it takes its history and its ecosystem with it. It’s very sad to see it go.

    • The end of a ‘living witness’ Justine is a really good way of putting it. With its loss, all its wonderful stories are starting to slip away with it. Lets hope that we can work harder to keep others going a lot longer.

    • Richard P Davies says:

      Totally agree with Justine Whittern-all those years -watching history pass by-so very sad

  35. Michael Karpaty says:

    Such a shame this iconic tree has fallen but hopefully biodiversity can still flourish amongst it’s remains.

    • Iconic it certainly was, Michael. We may not be able to see all the organisms associated with the decay process but they are an extremely important part of biodiversity and so we hope the trunk will be retained to provide habitat for many years to come.

  36. Oh, this is a tragedy. It’s like one of our great ancient buildings collapsing – worse because this was a living entity. It has to be kept for posterity in some guise.

    • It is a very serious loss – third largest of oaks (both pedunculate and sessile) in the UK. That makes it of European significance. Without this tree we would not have known how big and long oaks could grow in that part of the UK. We have lost an important scientific organism. We gather that there are local initiatives to secure the remains somewhere locally for posterity.

  37. Nick Heins says:

    Sad – let’s make sure our surviving ancient/veteran trees are fully protected

    • Nick, many are still extremely vulnerable. And the Pontfadog Oak has demonstrated that just putting a Tree Preservation Order on a tree is not enough, although a good step if a tree is at risk from removal. Adding important trees to the Ancient Tree Hunt is a good first step if you know any that are not yet on the database.

  38. Charlotte Bennett says:

    Tragic loss. I agree, keep part for posterity, facilitate growth of future generations and also consider deadwood value…. This tree could live on for a good while yet as a home to the saproxylic…

    • Charlotte you are absolutely right dead, decaying wood is full of life! An old oak in the right location could take many decades to fade slowly away and would create wonderful soil.

    • Dorothy Field says:

      I can only offer my sympathy. A number of years ago, I had to take down a huge Garry oak in my back yard after an arborist confirmed that it was rotten through and through — though it looked ok — and any strong wind could take it. He was right — it was indeed almost completely hollow. It could have crashed on my house or a neighbour’s. Neither scenario would have been ok. My oak was about 150 years old, an infant compared to Wales’ great tree. Still, it broke my heart. I live on Vancouver Island. Garry oaks are magnificent trees and in their natural habitat they are surrounded in spring by a myriad of wildflowers, lilies, shooting stars, etc., so that a Garry oak meadow in bloom is like an elysian field. They are endangered and the ecosystem is severely threatened. Each tree lost is part of the end of the tribe. So I repeat my condolences. Oaks of every sort speak of ancient mysteries. We owe it to the earth to protect them and to propogate replacements for the ancient ones when they succumb finally to their old age. Lucky for me, I had a seedling Garry oak that a friend had given me about ten years before. When my oak came down, my seedling was about three feet high. It is now taller than me, somewhat spindly but hanging in. May it and all the other young oaks live and thrive.

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