The veteran trees of Bushey Wood

Last week, on the hottest day of the year so far, I joined Margaret Peart of the Dore Village Society to conduct an informal survey of Bushey Wood in Totley. This small patch of woodland is what remains of a larger wooded area that has been hemmed in by the housing built from the 1910s through to the 1960s.

For its size there are a high number of notable and possible veteran trees. The largest oak has an estimated trunk girth of 3.8 metres – estimated because we could not access the whole tree due to a fence. An oak of this size could be anywhere between 200 and 440 years old.i

The reason for this wide age bracket is because it is not known whether this tree grew on the woodland boundary, with plenty of room and access to light, or inside the woodland, where space and light levels are much reduced. The top end of this estimate would make it an ancient oak, however it is safe to say that an oak can be considered a veteran upon reaching reach three metres in girth.

In the approximately 400m section we mapped between Gilleyfield Avenue and where the brook enters the culvert, there are two other oaks in excess of three metres – one at 3.1m (pictured left) and another at 3.3m (pictured above). Plus another two notable specimens at 2.8m girth.

There are a further handful of large oaks in the remaining section, which could easily match the size of those already measured. In particular, there are a couple that perilously overhang the brook – to be measured on a cooler day and while wearing more appropriate footwear.

Eleven ancient woodland indicator species were recorded during this visit

The oaks are far from the only interesting finds in Bushey Wood. We spotted several large field maples; one at 2.5m can be regarded as a veteran in the region of 220 years old. The next biggest measures in at 2.2m and although not quite a veteran it is nonetheless notable, as a tree of this stature that has matured inside a closed canopy wood for in the region of a hundred years could be older than appearances suggest.ii

Slightly set back from the path there are two field maple coppice stools, partly entangled within the stonework around the old gatepost. Although of unknown age they could be contemporary with the other field maples along this stretch.

Other indications of this woodland’s considerable age are the many elderly hawthorns. The largest of these are single stem trees smothered in so much ivy they are impossible to measure, however there are also sections of straggly hedging, of which one example includes nine trees.

Hazels are found in great number here and, along with field maple, are among the eleven ancient woodland indicator species recorded on this visit. A couple of the coppiced hazels have reached an exceptional size (pictured) and should be regarded as veteran trees, although coppiced trees are notoriously hard to age. The whole picture speaks of a woodland once managed as coppice with standards.

There are several significant ash trees in Bushey Wood, although many of these are now behind the fences of private gardens (as shown below). Herein lies one of the key threats to Bushey Wood: over time the boundaries of some gardens have crept into the woodland margin and have then been later formalised by fencing. Those trees on the wrong side of the fence are both lost to the public and are subject to the whims of the homeowner.

Such trees may be loved and cared for, however they could equally well meet their demise through neglect or be felled for spurious reasons. Elsewhere inappropriate tree and plant species have either escaped from gardens or are deliberately planted along supposed boundaries. These are slowly making their presence felt in Bushey Wood, potentially at the expense of native species.

What ash trees could be estimated and/or reached measure in at: 3.0m (est.), 3.6m and another at 3.6m is now dead, with the top removed. Ash trees are given veteran status when they reach three metres circumference. It is likely that the ashes inside gardens could well equal this size range; they could be yet larger still.

Thanks to ash die-back the survival of each mature ash tree is more important than ever. No-one knows which trees will demonstrate natural resistance to this devastating fungal disease, making each tree priceless.

i This figure does not take into account the air pollution in Sheffield that was at its worst between the 1850s and the 1960s, which significantly slowed tree growth. Read Prof. Ian Rotherham’s comments on the subject at the bottom of this page.

ii This timescale relates to the last time this wood was likely to have been coppiced, as the practice had almost completely died out in Sheffield by the turn of the 20th century. It is possible that trees may have been coppiced during the war years when fuel supplies ran short.