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The Art of Ancient Woodlands

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I'm giving a talk at the AGM of Friends of Markstakes Common. 

An ancient oak tree with a twisting trunk and autumn leaves

I will be talking about how the 34 tress on the National Tree Register have fared since the last survey 13 years ago. A few have died, several have lost limbs, others bits, some appear to have changed very little at all. Its hard to take the long view of ancient trees such as oak, beech, hornbeam, silver birch or ash. Maybe the time to review is every 25 years, or in the case of oak trees, every 50 years? And to keep the process going for several hundred years. 

A couple of ink sketches in a drawing pad showing trees

My art and curiosity as a wannabe arborist and environmentalist/woodland manager finds me both drawing and photographing these trees often: across all seasons and in all weathers. I find strong wind attracts me to the woods ... It intrigues me that beech and oak has a different tensile strength, so oak can be spotted growing through a beech tree by the way it bends and blow out of sync with the 'host' tree. Snow is perfect to add highlights to the winter silhouette of a tree. Spring sees the woodland floor covered in wood anemones and bluebells. 

A single bluebell in amongst last year's brown bracken

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Design Museum

The Ancient Trees of Markstakes Common, East Sussex

Visible to anyone in the world

Ink drawing of an ancient oak

Thirty-Four trees were recognised as 'notable' and in a few instances 'veteran': hornbeam, ash, beech, birch and oak. This was in 2011. Since then one tree has fallen, two died and one broken off at around 3m. Does that bring the number down to 30? My searches could add a further six to the list - trees missed a decade ago.

As I explore the woods and try to figure out what makes one tree 'ancient' and another not I have found myself drawing them, in charcoal on A2 sheets in the summer, in a small drawing pad initially, and now in a larger book in ink - once home I transfer the picture onto an A1 sheet and from photographs try to add in the rest of the tree right into the canopy.


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