Explore the lost hedges of Ashclyst Forest to Celebrate Devon Hedge Week

People are invited to join a guided walking exploration of hedges, old field boundaries and their veteran trees, which were hidden by the 19th Century planting of Ashclyst Forest, on Friday 27th October at 10am.

Last month, volunteers began the epic task of hunting for the ancient trees of Ashclyst Forest, which covers over 270 hectares (equivalent to 270 international rugby fields). They went in search of the ‘King & Queen’ oaks, marked on the 1880 Ordnance Survey map. The Queen was found, alive and well, but the King could not be traced! If you can help with this detective work or want to gain tree identification tips and learn learn about the Woodland Trust’s national Ancient Tree Inventory, contact jon.freeman@eastdevon.gov.uk or 07875 285 539.

The ancient tree hunt is just one element of the Great Trees in the Clyst Valley project, which is now well under way after an enthusiastic response to the initial call for volunteers.

Over 20 volunteers learned how to survey and record ancient, veteran and notable trees at the inaugural event at Poltimore House (8 September 2017). The day involved several informative classroom sessions, practical tuition and hands-on work “in the field”, assessing, measuring, recording and entering trees onto the Woodland Trust’s national Ancient Tree Inventory. 

Attendees also learnt that England has more ancient oaks than the rest of Europe put together and that an oak tree can spend 300 years growing, 300 years resting, and 300 years gracefully expiring! An oak in this final stage always supports a huge amount of wildlife.

Some of the volunteers have wasted no time in putting their new found skills into practice, independently recording trees in the Clyst Valley. One volunteer, Lauren Owen said it was an “excellent day, lots of fun and really interesting. I’m super keen to get out there and record some trees!”

History Detectives

Ten days later, 14 volunteers then took part in a “Join the History Detectives” event at the Devon Heritage Centre and the nearby privately owned Bishop’s Court. During the morning session they viewed historic maps and documents, and learned from expert archivists, archaeologists, and garden historians about how to begin to research the development of historic parkland, a distinctive feature within the Clyst Valley.

They rounded off the day with a visit to the fascinating park and gardens at Bishop’s Court, where the group poured over old maps and 18th century paintings, as well as ultra-modern laser images, hunting the woods for traces of medieval fishponds, vanished driveways, and other hidden secrets. 

The volunteers from this day, and others who join their ranks, will now go on to research the development of Bishop’s Court and other historic parklands and gardens in the Clyst Valley. What they uncover will inform the restoration of these parks and gardens. Next year, there will be a series of “discovery walks” and trails, and extensive tree planting.

Project officer, Jon Freeman said:
“We are off to a flying start with events being oversubscribed and a huge level of interest and support from local people in exploring, recording and restoring the heritage landscape of trees across East Devon’s Clyst Valley. Our most recent event in Ashclyst Forest saw a dedicated band of intrepid volunteers, using historic maps and aerial photographs to navigate, hunting for ancient, veteran and notable trees to record in the national inventory. Despite brambles, holly thickets and mud, enthusiasm was high and we had a lot of fun. There are so many great trees, still not recorded, so please do get in touch if you can help!”    

The Clyst Valley is on the doorstep of a rapidly growing population east of Exeter. Whilst some parts of it are well known, for example the National Trust's Killerton Estate, others are less accessible and await discovery.

Great Trees in the Clyst Valley is supported by £52,100 National Lottery grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and a partnership which includes East Devon District Council, Devon County Council, Devon Gardens Trust, Devon Hedge Group, Environment Agency, E.ON, Forestry Commission, Heritage Lottery Fund, Natural England, National Trust, Parishes Together Fund, the People’s Trust for Endangered Species and the Woodland Trust.

For more information about Great Trees in the Clyst Valley project contact Jon on: jon.freeman@eastdevon.gov.uk or 07875 285 539