Country house oak scoops girth prize

THIS mighty oak in the gardens of a country house is the winner of a competition to find the biggest girth of an oak growing in Suffolk.The tree at Haughley Park, near Stowmarket, measures 9.

THIS mighty oak in the gardens of a country house is the winner of a competition to find the biggest girth of an oak growing in Suffolk.

The tree at Haughley Park, near Stowmarket, measures 9.57 metres around the trunk and is thought to be about 1,000 years old.

Its trunk is hollow, two major boughs are supported by brick plinths, decay is eating into the timber and fungus is growing from damp areas.

But the tree is very much alive and foliage grew a good seven or eight inches this year.

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The tree was entered in a competition organised by the Suffolk Wildlife Trust to find the fattest oak as part of a campaign to highlight the landscape, cultural and wildlife roles of the county's ancient trees.

The competition attracted 50 entries and the winner's certificate was presented on Tuesday to Haughley Park head gardener and estate manager, Jim King.

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He said the tree had altered little in the 34 years he had worked in the park and the only maintenance task was to control the growth of ivy to prevent the tree becoming top heavy and liable to being blown over in strong winds.

"Otherwise the ivy seems to help the tree – the best branches are found underneath it," added Mr King.

Robert Williams, owner of Haughley Park, said his family had lived there since 1957 and he could remember, as a teenager, climbing the old tree.

"It was almost certainly a part of the original wild wood which was found in this area. Oaks just love the clay soil here," he added.

Mr Williams said he could also remember between 30 and 40 boy scouts standing in the hollow trunk of the tree some years ago. "It really is a magnificent specimen," he added.

Tracey Housley, Wildline project officer for the wildlife trust, said the Haughley Park oak was one of many ancient trees in the county which supported a great variety of wildlife.

Hollow trunks and dead boughs were a normal part of a tree's development and such specimens should be treasured, not felled as had happened in some locations, she added.

"Trees provide us with oxygen to breathe, natural spaces to enjoy and they are an essential wildlife habitat. Just one oak can support 63 bird species, 271 types of insect and 34 species of butterfly," said Ms Housley.

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