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Discussion > Greening?

ACK absolutely yes, but no really!

I don't think there was any serious consideration to planting trees in the UK as a crop for future use until after WW1. Admiral Collingwood was worried by the future shortage of oak trees in the early 1800s. The Royal Navy's first steel ship was HMS Warrior 1860. We had an Empire, and wood grew on trees throughout the Empire, and Scandanavia, thought not Empire, was close by, and happy to sell.

In 1860, the future was iron and steel, powered by coal. Britain could produce its own. But no one envisaged the UK being blockaded by U-Boats.

Some in the Royal Navy were not convinced by coal. HMS Warrior had a full sailplan plus steam engines. Coal could be mined in many parts of the Empire, and stored at convenient locations South Africa, India, Australia etc. To and from the Pacific via Cape Horn would have been a problem but for the Falkland Islands .......

Nov 4, 2016 at 12:09 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

golf charlie
I suppose16th and even 17th century ship design could be compared to early 20th century aviation. Major changes in design size and capability often led to designs which were impractical in practice and design faults which only became apparent when being used in real world conditions. I think both the Mary Rose and Vasa were lost due to gun ports being too close to the waterline.

Interesting contrast to military design is purely commercial design, the Dutch fluyt (developed in 16th century) merchant vessels were highly successful and much copied. A 16th century equivalent of the Boeing 707?

Nov 4, 2016 at 12:25 PM | Unregistered CommenterSandyS


Don't forget that the Iberian peninsula is home to many oak trees. If you go through the plains of Castile, you see mile after mile of "encinas" - the Ilex or evergreen oak - and there are also substantial quantities of "robles" which, to my untutored eyes, seem identical to British oaks - Quercus robur. It may also be relevant that cork trees are also oaks - Quercus suber. So the tanners of Spain probably had ample supplies.

Rackham makes the point that oak bark has more tannin than most other trees. It is also clear that, in the absence of a law or Royal edict , the market will prevail. After the 17th c. "bark increased in value faster than timber...thousands of acres of western oakwoods were managed solely as coppice; timber was foregone for a greater yield of bark. Those who think of the Navy as the great consumer of oak-trees for ships should contemplate the Army's consumption of oak-trees for boots and saddles. After 1860 the value of bark sharply declined as other sources of tannin came into use, such as valonia, the giant acorn-cups of Quercus macrolepsis fron the Aegean" - blimey, yet another oak species!

So what about ACK's point about stranded assets? One thing to bear in mind that the idea of 1 type of tree being grown for 1 use is not helpful. Here we have oaks used in ship-building, tanning and various other less economically significant uses such as furniture, house-building, even domestic fuel.

Back to Rackham yet again (sorry): "Shipbuilding and leather-tanning went on rising until c.1860, when both markets rapidly collapsed. Meanwhile the railways (which for a time were big consumers of oak timber) undercut the rural fuel market by bringing coal to remote places."

He then goes on to note the use of oak timber as pit props for coal mines. This however, altered the shape of oak forests as mines needed small timber rather than the large timber required by ships, and coppicing for bark is not suitable for the requirements of timber.

Then in the 1860s and 70s there was a period of massive destruction of woodlands. He doesn't really explain this but I imagine it was a combination of building of new towns and the expansion of fields to create large farms as the practice of communal agriculture on strips of land died out. Perhaps farmland was more viable than woodland by this time. However, this was followed by a great agricultural depression in which new woodland was formed. "Plantation forestry began to overtake ancient woodland in area".

For GC " Some types of planting may be ecologically insignificant: the proverbial retired admiral, dibbling acorns into the ground with his walking stick, would have given them a greater chance of survival."

"In 1914 many woods would still have been recognisable to a medieval surveyor. Details would have changed: a piece subtracted from the outline here or added there; longer coppice rotations; often a high density of timber trees intended for a now baniched market" - eg the stranded oaks for ship-building that had not been used as pit props or railway sleepers - it is much harder to cut down and saw up a large tree so you would pick out trees of the right size for the job at hand, leaving the rest just to keep growing and reproducing, at least until the mysterious diseases of the early 20thc came along and caused oaks in dense woods to die out.

Then WW1 and the Forestry Commission changed the landscape.

Nov 4, 2016 at 1:41 PM | Unregistered Commenterdiogenes

SandyS, the "average Brit" will know of the Spanish Armada and Trafalgar etc, but not much about the Dutch, their seafaring skills and achievements and the wars and bitter rivalry with the British over Southern Africa, India and beyond.

One of their significant ports was Hooren/Hoorn, now on the inland sea, the IJsselmeer.They named the tip of South America after it, the name stuck, but was anglicised to Cape Horn.

They were not building ships with an abundance of timber, but using wind power could saw wood quickly. They could not build ships with deep drafts, because of shallow water. Their ships were much quicker to build, used far less wood, could be dried out on mud, and, being lighter, were faster. The Fluyt was designed as a merchantship, not a modified warship.

The Thames Sailing Barge is a modified Dutch design. East Anglia's sea defences are Dutch, farmland reclaimed from The Wash, is by Dutch techniques. Some large Dutch sailing craft still exist with flat bottoms. They use Lee boards as opposed to a fin keel to provide directional stability under sail, much like a simple dagger board on a dinghy.

The Vasa capsized on its maiden voyage. Bad design. The Mary Rose was modified and had more guns added higher up. The Mary Rose was also overloaded with men, most of whom were on deck, above the centre of gravity. Thereafter, bad seamanship by skipper and crew (impeded by soldiers?) caused her to heel with gunports open.

Nov 4, 2016 at 2:06 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

I believe plantations in the New Forest were begun for the Royal Navy but never used, as were parts of Fontainebleau Forest south of Paris for the French Navy. Since these were never used as intended they constitute stranded assets, although now their worth is beyond price.

Nov 4, 2016 at 2:25 PM | Unregistered CommenterACK

diogenes 1:41 broadly agree! The Oak tree, Hearts of Oak etc is part of English/British culture. It was considered critical for the structure of a ship, and was good as armour plating for the hull.

Ilex is holly, Quercus is Oak. Quercus ilex is the holly oak, holm oak or evergreen oak. It grows quite happily in the UK, but is of Mediterranean origin. I have no idea what it's bark is like for corks, tannin, or the timber for shipbuilding!

Coal and the railways provided fuel for cooking and heating especially in the rapidly expanding towns and cities. Woodland kept for firewood was no longer so important near towns, and in the countryside this need decreased as mechanisation on farms required larger fields, but fewer farm labourers, to produce more food. On a slightly controversial note, if it had not been for hunting and shooting, most English woodland would have gone from the big estates.

The "Acid Rain" panic of the 70s was mainly down to increased acidity in rivers and streams caused by runoff from coniferous plantations

Nov 4, 2016 at 2:53 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

ACK, Wikipedia confirms:

"The New Forest became a source of timber for the Royal Navy, and plantations were created in the 18th century for this purpose. In the Great Storm of 1703, about 4000 oak trees were lost.

The naval plantations encroached on the rights of the Commoners, but the Forest gained new protection under the New Forest Act 1877, which confirmed the historic rights of the Commoners and prohibited the enclosure of more than 65 km2(25 sq mi) at any time. It also reconstituted the Court of Verderers as representatives of the Commoners (rather than the Crown)."

As a Hampshire resident, I don't know the New Forest very well, but I think is is a closer match to the term "Parkland" that you use. It is poor agricultural land (sandy soil?) and this may be why so many oak trees blew down in the Great Storm of 1703. It may simply be the only area that the Government (Royal Navy) were sufficiently concerned to go out and count and record the extent of the damage.

Out of curiosity if oak trees were planted 100 feet apart, so that their natural spread would allow good branches off the trunk to develop you would plant 2,700 per square mile. Which puts 4,000 lost in a single storm into some sort of scale.

Nov 4, 2016 at 4:19 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

ACK, sorry forgot to add...

When the inhabitants of the New Forest were given better rights in 1877, the Royal Navy had no need of the oaks!

Nov 4, 2016 at 4:21 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

In reply to ACK, I would hope that my quotations from Rackham suggest that ship-building probably did not cause any great changes in British forestry management so, on its own, it might not have created much in the way of stranded assets.. However the Government had to step in and he makes this slightly acerbic comment::

"during and after the Napoleonic Wars, the Crown tried yet again to convert those Forests where it owned the land to oak plantations, foreseeing the need for 74-gun ships of the line and for boot-leather and artillery-horse harness should there be a world war around 1940."

After Nelson had visited the Forest of Dean and complained it was not producing enough naval timber, an Act of Parliament was passed in 1808 to authorise the enclosure of 80% of the Crown holdings. "The undertaking was completed by 1855, just in time for the Navy to stop building oaken ships. The wrong oaks were planted and the result ws barely successful even on its own terms."

Your memory of the New Forest seems justified.

"The New Forest was too big to treat thus. The area planted was about 19,000 acres, less than 1/3 of the Crown land and about 1/5 of the whole Forest....the Commoners more effectively defended their rights."

Smaller Crown-owned Forests got the same treatment as the Forest of Dean. Another acidulous comment: "the oaks of the 1820s grew, but never fulfilled their appointed destiny in World War II. These monotonous, even-aged stands of rather poor-quality oak became somewhat of an embarrassment."

That makes a number of points. First, the oak husbandry of previous centuries had revolved around sensible management of the stock, not causing mass planting in short periods of time - instead using trees of different maturities for different purposes. Growing trees for specific purposes is problematic - a lesson that the Forestry Commission seem not to have learned. Therefore it seems fair to opine that ship-building alone did not have a marked impact on oak forests. in this case it was well-intentioned Government meddling that got it so badly wrong and led to a mass of stranded assets. I wonder if these oaks are still in situ. Once again, Rackham has the answer ( I really cannot commend his book too highly):

"I was once scolded by a critic who told me that 'foresters ought to be growing trees for the industries of today': just what foresters can never do....The landscape is full of trees grown for obsolete reasons, and probably always will be (cf the beeches of Wycombe). Woods today are full of oaks that should have provided the ships and boats of World War II. Valleys are full of poplars that were to have ignited the cigarettes of the 1990s; many of these have grown into picturesque shapes after the 1987 and 1990 storms shattered or uprooted them."

So private enterprise gets it wrong too! In 1915, apparently, Britain imported almost all the timber it used - even pit props. The process had begun in the 13thc!

Nov 4, 2016 at 4:44 PM | Unregistered Commenterdiogenes

Dem ol' history brain cells still there and sparkin'.
Technical use of "Parkland" not mine. Came across it when I lived in Regina, Saskatchewan, which is open prairie with few to no trees and transition between it and boreal forest (in which Saskatoon resides) was designated by this term. Always thought it a useful distinction (trees not forming a continuous canopy from "forests" - landscapes covered by close-spaced trees) because overall appearance is of managed estates called parks). I wasn't aware that this use seems to be almost exclusively North American.

I wonder if North America's parklands are expanding at the expense of open prairies as a result of CO2 greening?

Nov 4, 2016 at 5:04 PM | Unregistered CommenterACK

Diogenes. Rackham's book was one of many I gave away after I retired. It, amongst many others, I deeply regret not now having to hand. I realized this morning that I was searching for it. It seems that as soon as I disposed of part of my rather eclectic library I found I needed it. Wiki and other parts of the web serve as partial substitutes but are no substitute for a good personal library you spent a lifetime assembling.

Nov 4, 2016 at 5:15 PM | Unregistered CommenterACK

I wonder if North America's parklands are expanding at the expense of open prairies as a result of CO2 greening?

Nov 4, 2016 at 5:04 PM | ACK

I think we are back to goats. Most grazing animals prefer to eat grass, and will leave tree seedlings/saplings alone, though some may be trodden on. If there is not much grass, trees get eaten. Tree planting in England (Britain?) requires bio-degradable collars to prevent damage from deer nibbling away the bark, and in town parks and private gardens to give protection from that lethal weapon known as a strimmer.

The American Bison or buffalo reigned supreme with few natural predators. Buffalo helped create and maintain parts of the US Landscape that was so desirable to settlers in the 1800s. Native Americans moved with the herds. Exterminating buffalo starved native americans and freed up land for cattle and crops.

Sheep and rabbits may not have created the landscapes of the South Downs and other parts of Britain, but they maintain it.

The UK's most invasive tree is probably the sycamore, regarded by many as a weed, but sold as maple (which it is) when converted into furniture. I don't go rambling through natural woods very often now, but natural growing young oak trees are not common. The idea of forests, mainly oak, is wonderful and romantic, but I am not convinced they were ever that common. Under a deciduous canopy, there is lots of light in winter and early spring, hence bluebells, wild garlic etc, but there is not much chance of a seedling surviving a year. When a mature tree falls, or is felled/removed, nature has a bit of a race to fill the gap. Oak is not a quick grower.

Diogenes has me wondering whether the high tanin levels in oak bark are to make it less palatable.

Nov 4, 2016 at 9:47 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

If American timber mills find it profitable to sell wood scraps and waste as pellets to the UK for combustion in power stations, what happens to wood waste and scraps from UK timber mills? Do we buy that much chipboard and MDF?

Nov 4, 2016 at 11:08 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

diogenes one further comment - you mentioned Wycombe and Beech trees .....

The Hawker Hurricane contained partial timber framing. It was easier to repair bullet holes on a Hurricane than a Spitfire.

The twin engined Mosquito fighter bomber, was substantially timber in construction. It was not finally ordered into production until 1940/1 ish, and the timber required less dependency on imports. It was a very impressive aircraft anyway, but the timber content would have appealed, as it also employed those with furniture and timber skills, leaving welders and metal fabrictors to do other stuff.

I have no idea who planted the trees that were turned into WW2 aircraft, or when, or why! Possibly those with an eye to the furniture industry?

Nov 5, 2016 at 12:12 AM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

golf charlie
Re Oak seedlings, here in Limousin there huge numbers of oak seedlings come up every year. I have a self planted oak in my garden which is about 20 years old. Most die or are killed by human activity but a few survive every year, I suspect that in a "natural" environment dead trees would rapidly be replaced. Over at Sunrise's Swansong Caleb posted an observation that young trees come into leaf a week before their taller more mature neighbours and retain leaves a week longer. He wasn't sure what mechanism was involved but it could be one for survival.

Both here and in Derby Ash trees are also good at seeding whether this will ensure surviving Ash Dieback I don't know.

Nov 5, 2016 at 8:04 AM | Unregistered CommenterSandyS

SandyS, I also see oak seedlings 12-18 inches high, I presume 1st year growth, but very rarely 18-36 inches, years 2-3?

Deciduous trees that are planted, tend to be 36inches+ in height. I don't know if that is an age or height at which they are most likely to survive, without further growing in green house conditions without repotting, handling, despatch, delivery planting problems etc, but they definitely need protection from bark nibblers and strimmers.

Acorns are not as big as conkers, but still represent a large seed, with nutrients and energy for a kick start to 1st year growth. A mature oak is presumably calculating on dropping acorns that may roll or bounce a short distance and colonise at the perimeter of the parent tree. Or rely on squirrels to gather, transport and bury them further away. Or retired admirals with pockets and walking sticks for dibblers.

A single oak tree only needs 2 successful drop-and-roll acorns in 2-300 years, though 6 would produce a better geometric pattern.

Tree roots in the turf of a lawn are liable to be nipped by lawn mowers, and some may prompt new growth, as a root "cutting", even if the root is not actually cut or severed from the host. This replicates damage from grazing animals with hoofs. I don't know if oaks can do this.

Nov 5, 2016 at 10:20 AM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

In the early 20th century, it was noticed that oak trees in forests were not reproducing but oak trees in open country were. It is thought that this was because of an imported mildew fungus that afflicted trees in low light areas more than the more vigorous growths in open country.

Nov 5, 2016 at 3:29 PM | Unregistered CommenterDiogenes

Diogenes, thank you. Interesting, I had not heard that before, but it makes sense of some of my own observations, having rarely seen an oak between 2 and 30 foot in height. If it is not freezing cold, I might go for a walk around some rural isolated oaks.

I can understand the English/British pride about oaks. Do you know if this exists elsewhere? If not for ships and construction, but wine corks and tanning leather?

Nov 5, 2016 at 4:15 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

GC Spain certainly has a strong oak culture. The jamón de bellota has to come from pigs fed on acorns, for example, and as I said in an earlier post, there are evergreen oaks, cork oaks and other oaks in plenty, as well as a culture of making and working leather eg the Córdoba leather used to bind expensive books and the leather clothing workshops of Salamanca. But it is more practical whereas the English have a reverence for oaks, such as the one Charles hid in or the one in Sherwood forest. I think the English reverence is on another level altogether.

Nov 5, 2016 at 5:28 PM | Unregistered CommenterDiogenes

I think I read somewhere that Mosquitoes were built from plywood, which caused problems in the tropics till they found a suitable glue. I imagine that most timber is suitable for plywood.

Nov 5, 2016 at 6:39 PM | Unregistered CommenterDiogenes

Diogenes "waterproof" timber glue, and "waterproof" or "marine" plywood, are subjects that were advanced rapidly during the war, not always successfully!

Marine plywoods and waterproof wood glues did revolutionise dinghy/yacht building in the 1950s, but even today, some well known companies have been selling marine plywood, that wasn't quite what it said it was.

Part of the problem with the glues has been the extent to which they saturate the thin plies, without leaving voids. I can appreciate that warm conditions with 100% humidity would present problems that a coat of varnish or paint would not prevent. I would guess that resistance to timber decay, woodworm and other creepy crawlies, was not a wartime consideration for fighting in Northern Europe, and other theatres of war may have presented interesting challenges!

Nov 5, 2016 at 9:53 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

Off topic (but then its been some time) but related. Two years ago (it might have been three: time slips by so quickly these days) I noticed that all the different species of oak in my neighbourhood were either producing no acorns or the yields were way down with whole branches yielding none. Visiting UEA (c.5 miles away) I noticed the same. Acorns were in very short supply. Talking with ecology students some of them (the more observant) living all across Norwich and its environs said the same thing - acorn production was way way down. Later I heard that in towns like Cromer and Ipswich and even Colchester, there was a similar dearth of acorns.

I asked a former ecologist colleague, who told me it must be a mast year, when trees deliberately reduce acorn production to kill off excessive predators (squirrels and other rodents). Reading on the subject revealed he had it 180 degrees wrong, and that mast years were years in which trees deliberately overproduce, ensuring that at least some stored overwinter are transported away and survive, giving some acorns a better chance of survival and germination. Years with low acorn production are clearly related to overproduction mast years, and must be controlled by some aspect of the climate of preceding years. I have only found the barest mention of under production mast years and wonder if any here had noticed them. Apparently overproduction mast years can be continent wide, which suggests climate is an unlikely cause.

Nov 6, 2016 at 8:29 AM | Unregistered CommenterACK

ACK, I had not heard that before described as a "mast" year. ( probably irrelevant, but oak was not used for ship masts)

The production of seeds requires the formation of blossom, that is fertilised, and then has the right conditions to grow and develop. For a tree, that starts with blossom in spring. Late frosts can damage the blossom, and any insects (if required) to pollinate. Frosts in Florida wrecking the Orange crop? Late frosts in the UK wrecking apple and pear production?

The "June drop" is a regular occurrence for fruit trees in the UK. The tree jettisons fruit it "decides" can not be developed, possibly due to dry conditions? The remaining fruit will develop fine. People who grow tomatos will know that irregular watering will cause the ffuit to swell quicker than the skins, and the skins split. Vineyard owners have long tried to predict the quantity and quality of the wine based on growing conditions through the season.

From personal experience, I know that runner beans not only require a rich and moist soil, but a regular mist of water on the blossom seems vital for beans to develop. I don't know if this benefits pollen production or the pollinators. In dry weather don't just water the soil!

I know that nature has evolved some incredible relationships between plants and animals, some to deter, some to attract, but altering acorn production to make squirrels run further and dig deeper?

As a flying guess, I certainly think a buried acorn or conker has a better chance of producing a seedling that is still alive the following spring. A squirrel digs with its front paws. It must be easier for a squirrel to bury an acorn in a grassy clearing, rather than underneath the canopy and amongst the roots of the parent tree. I have seen squirrels bury acorns in a lawn, and peanuts raided from bird tables.

Nov 6, 2016 at 1:16 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

Should have mentioned that Beech trees also exhibit mast years, but then oaks belong to the same family as beeches. Would be interesting to find out if oaks and beeches have concurrent mast years, but there seems to be little published information about this phenomenon. Perhaps it's because such studies would take decades.

Nov 6, 2016 at 1:32 PM | Unregistered CommenterACK

ACK, such studies would take years, and do not appeal to students and funders. The Forestry Commission has never been interested in oak and beech.

The Royal Navy might have been interested up until about 1860, along with "eccentric" land owning retired Admirals.

Those currently with an active interest, might include groups dedicated to the survival of the Red Squirrel, and/or culling of Grey Squirrels. Sometimes conservation of one species or habitat, requires eradication of another!

Brownsea Island in Poole Harbour (where Baden-Powell started Boy Scouts) is a natural refuge for Red Squirrels. I have never visited. The Isle of Wight is a home for Red Squirrels, with (probably) some Grey Squirrel "control" procedures.

The problem for all research into nature now, is that funding is linked to being able to blame Global Warming, even if it is only a single line saying that "this will get worse with Global Warming".

Nov 6, 2016 at 2:30 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie