Each month we feature an ancient British tree. is month the Ancient Tree Forum introduces us to the Copper beech tree, St John’s Churchyard, Frome
The old copper beech in St John’s churchyard is a distinctive natural landmark, much-loved by many local residents of the Somerset town of Frome. Brackets of a Ganoderma fungus are highly visible and the tree is hollowing naturally through the slow decay of the heartwood. This releases locked up nutrients that the tree can recycle to its benefit. With all its decaying wood and other veteran features, the St John’s beech has great biodiversity due to the range of habitats it provides for other fungi, the saproxylic invertebrates and other species that depend upon it.
It is, however, threatened with felling due to concerns about the degree of decay – the very habitat that makes it so valuable. With a girth of over 5m it is also classified as an ancient tree on the Ancient Tree Hunt website. But the historical, cultural and biological value of this copper beech may not be enough to save it and its future is unclear at the time of going to print.
The perception of risk to public safety from trees can be disproportionately high. The overall risk to human safet y from falling branches or trees is actually ver y low. As tree owners have a legal duty of care, this can lead to unnecessary or inappropriate approaches to tree safety management. The natural hollowing of ancient trees does not necessarily undermine their structural integrity. It is the strength and vitality of the living wood that is the key to their longevity, as shown by the Frome beech. Felling to the ground is rarely justified, and where intervention is needed, reduction of the crown or some sort of pruning should always be considered as a better alternative. A number of resources on risk management of veteran trees can be accessed from the Ancient Tree Forum website www.ancienttreeforum.co.uk (search for ‘health and safety’). These include a guide to risk and responsibility, and a video on ‘Common sense risk management of veteran trees’.
For further information visit: www.ancienttreeforum.co.uk/ancienttrees/threats-to-ancient-trees/