Rare Felbrigg trees could save country’s woodlands

Richard Daplyn, deputy head ranger, preparing to lasso the seeds. Picture: NATIONAL TRUST IMAGES/MAT

Richard Daplyn, deputy head ranger, preparing to lasso the seeds. Picture: NATIONAL TRUST IMAGES/MATTHEW USHER - Credit: NATIONAL TRUST IMAGES/MATTHEW USHER

Seeds from a rare beech tree in Norfolk are being saved to ensure the survival of the country's woodlands.

The beech masts. Picture: NATIONAL TRUST IMAGES/MATTHEW USHER

The beech masts. Picture: NATIONAL TRUST IMAGES/MATTHEW USHER - Credit: NATIONAL TRUST IMAGES/MATTHEW USHER

National Trust rangers on the Felbrigg Estate, near Cromer, have this week been collecting beech masts that will be stored in the UK's first national collection of tree seeds.

They will be stored in sub-zero temperatures in vaults deep beneath the countryside by the Kew Gardens' Millennium Seed Bank at the organisation's Wakehurst estate in West Sussex.

Richard Daplyn, deputy head ranger at Felbrigg, said: 'It's extraordinary to think that seeds from our trees could help ensure the survival of the UK's woods in the future. Separated from the UK's other beech trees by their coastal location, our Norfolk beeches developed a distinct genetic make-up found nowhere else in Britain.

'Despite the wet weather, we managed to collect a few bags of seed - using a process that's simple, but exhausting. We throw a lasso over the beech's branch and shake the tree. The beech mast then fall onto the ground sheet below.'

Looking up, ranger Mary Ghullam as she helps collect the seeds. Picture: NATIONAL TRUST IMAGES/MATTH

Looking up, ranger Mary Ghullam as she helps collect the seeds. Picture: NATIONAL TRUST IMAGES/MATTHEW USHER - Credit: NATIONAL TRUST IMAGES/MATTHEW USHER


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There are approximately 70 ancient beech trees on the Felbrigg Estate. The ancient trees are up to 300 years old.

The trees at Felbrigg are genetically distinct from the rest of the UK's beech tree population. It is thought that this is a consequence of Felbrigg's coastal location, with the sea just to the north of the estate.

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The estate has a long tradition of forestry. A seventeenth century owner began planting woodland on the estate after being inspired by John Evelyn's Sylva (1664).

The trees have inspired a more recent passion. In the 1970s one estate worker carved lyrics from pop songs into the trees – hoping to impress his lover. They include Rod Stewart's 1977 hit (If loving you is wrong) I don't want to be right.

Carved lyrics on a tree at Felbrigg. Picture: NATIONAL TRUST IMAGES/MATTHEW USHER

Carved lyrics on a tree at Felbrigg. Picture: NATIONAL TRUST IMAGES/MATTHEW USHER - Credit: NATIONAL TRUST IMAGES/MATTHEW USHER

Clare Trivedi, UK National Tree Seed Project co-ordinator at Kew Gardens, said: 'Building up our seed collections of the nation's favourite and most important tree species is a vital step in combating the plant pests and diseases that threaten our best loved trees – and are already changing Britain's landscapes forever.'

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