Savernake forest’s most venerable oak trees have been receiving some special attention during a visit by photographers from a Belgian publishing house. On Sunday (April 22) Michel Timacheff from the publishers Edilens Editions and two colleagues were shown round some of the oldest – some as much as 700 years old – and most famous of Savernake’s oak trees.Many of
Edilens Editions are preparing an English language edition with new photographs of their Guide Illustré des Chenes – or oaks. This massive and scholarly two volume, 1,500 page work first published in 2006, details the various species and varieties of oaks across Europe, the Americas and Asia, and contains about 4,000 photographs from northern South America to Indonesia – via Savernake.
Michel is the chief photographer and graphic designer for Edilens’ series of botanical reference works designed to be the standard books on each species. They have already published a guide to the world’s maples (1995) and a work on pines is nearing completion.
Michel and his team are on a ten day tour of British oaks. The visit to Britain was essential as British woods hold about eighty per cent of all Northern Europe’s veteran trees and Savernake Forest is one of the most important sites for veteran trees in England.
Michel told Marlborough News Online: “There are not many forests in Europe with so many old oaks – and we’ve not seen many older oaks on our visit so far. Here in Savernake there are so many really old oaks – and with so many wonderful shapes.”
Those strange shapes – like the Saddle Oak and Old Paunchy – have formed because many centuries ago the trees were pollarded or cut down to use in building homes, barns and sometimes barrels, leaving a large stump which slowly regrew into today’s mighty trees.
The tour of the ancient oaks was organised by Joan Davies who lives on the edge of Savernake Forest. Some years ago, she and retired doctor and active botanist, Dr Jack Oliver, did a survey of the oaks and wrote a paper about them for the Wiltshire Archaeology and Natural History Society.
In 2003, at the request of the Forestry Commission, Dr Oliver used Joan’s photographs for a display at the International Oak Conference in Winchester. It was the publication in America of the proceedings of the conference that prompted Michel to contact Joan about Savernake’s oaks.
Also on the tour is Hervé Mureau a French botanist who works in the Lyon Botanical Garden specialising in trees. He and Jack Oliver spent time discussing the minute differences between various hybrids.
Savernake Forest is home to the English or pedunculate oak, the Sessile oak and to many variant hybrids. Old Paunchy is a Sessile oak – you can tell from its stalkless acorns (sessile means ‘stalkless’.) And there’s one Turkey oak in the forest.
Next stop for Michel and his team was to be the Forest of Dean which does not have as many or as old oaks as Savernake. But they are very keen to photograph the famous Verderer’s oak which may be 500 years old and has a girth of 7.5 metres.