How many Frenchmen can you get inside a hollow ancient tree?

Image: Jill Butler

Ancient, hollow Bringolo Oak, Côtes d’Armor
Jill Butler

Through the natural aging process ancient deciduous trees become hollow. Hollowing in the trunk usually starts when the tree is mature and only affects the heartwood or dead wood in the centre of the tree. Once it starts the process is progressive and the more ancient the tree, the more likely that only a living shell of sapwood is left and the entire centre of the tree has decayed away. Standing, living, hollow trees like this are one of the rarest habitats in the world and are keystone features for biodiversity – for further information see Ancient Tree Guide no 6: The wildlife of trees

As part of a French workshop run by Atelier de l’arbre on the management of ancient trees, the course participants were taken to see the ancient oak in the farmyard of the Mazevet family in Côtes d’Armor. It is just one of a number of Arbres Remarkables in Brittany identified by Mickaёl Jézégou from the Conseil General of Cotes d’Armor. There are a growing number of such projects in France that seek to raise awareness of the value of the living historic landscape and the ‘bocage’ (mixed hedge with pollard or shredded trees, pasture and small woods) so special in some parts of rural France.

So how many Frenchmen were able to squeeze into this hollow tree? You can count for yourself but you need to include the portly Englishman, Ted Green, Founder President of the Ancient Tree Forum second from left, who didn’t want to miss out on the fun. Is this a European record? Let us know if you know of trees where this record could be beaten….

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Image: Jill Butler

Ancient oak – how many inside?
Jill Butler

Jill Butler, Ancient Tree Adviser

About Kay Haw

Assistant Conservation Adviser, Woodland Trust. Nature is my passion, especially woods and trees which are just amazing elements of life. One day (soon) I hope we humans learn to work in harmony with Mother Earth.
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12 Responses to How many Frenchmen can you get inside a hollow ancient tree?

  1. Guy Meilleur says:

    The Pontfadog Oak was a tragic loss, but there were many factors involved aside from soil compaction. Managing the loads on these trees by pruning is a logical part of the plan.

    • Moray says:

      I agree Guy pruning can be prescribed to prevent collapse. However we need to take a holistic approach so that we’re looking at all factors that affects trees, whether its the rhizosphere, biomechanics and biology or wind loading. However with trees with such a high percentage of non-dynamic mass, it is a fine line between pruning to prevent collapse and pruning which tips the tree into a spiral of decline. Knowing what state the root-system is in, is part of the process of assesment to see if pruning is required.

      • Thanks for posting Guy and Moray. While managing loads is of course important, it is my experience that long term damage to roots of trees is seriously overlooked in the UK. As they are out of sight they are too often out of mind – not necessarily in the minds of arborists but in the understanding of the trees owners.

  2. Moray says:

    However we have to be careful we don’t disturb wildlife such as bats when looking at trees with cavities. Also as was was evident with the sad loss of the Pontfadog oak, lots of visitors to these special trees over a long period of time can lead to soil compaction which for honeypot trees can lead to root loss and eventual failure. Lets marvel at these special trees, but remember they are living entitiies and home to wildlife.

  3. We live in the bocage of Basse Normandie, and had a similar tree in our hedge, beloved of visiting children to make a den. Anyone in France can make a recommendation for “arbre remarquable” and we recommended an ancient linden (tilleul) which has been a joy to see for as long as I’ve known it.

    • Ji11but1er says:

      You are very lucky to live in such a beautiful bocage landscape. Maybe your tree should be entered into the French Tree of the Year competition. Thanks for posting.

  4. Peter Kyte says:

    I think that trees with a hollow in them are quite magical and deserve to be protected.

  5. John Scrivens says:

    I once tried to convince the so called ‘experts’ at my local council that just because a mature oak has a bit of a hollow in it doesn’t mean that it has to come down. They didn’t believe me.

    • Ji11but1er says:

      There is a long way to go John in spreading the word about tree risk and what is or isnt appropriate management. Take a look at Ancient and other Veteran trees- Further guidance on management – the new textbook on the block available from the Tree Council’s shop. This should help you make the case next time.

  6. Reblogged this on Musings of a Penpusher and commented:
    One man and fourteen of his friends can seek shelter in a hollow tree. Howzat?

    • Ji11but1er says:

      Thanks for sharing this post Maureen. Every time I look at the first image I cant believe that 15 people were able to get inside that tree. King Charles II and his two mates hiding in the Boscobel Oak seems very feasible after this. Maybe its not just numbers we should be asking about but stories of people in hollow trees.

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