A.D.C. Le Sueur, a former Superintendent of Burnham Beeches, revised his first edition of The Care and Repair of Ornamental Trees in 1949, which included a chapter on the preservation of very old trees. The following are some of the conclusions that he came to 71 years ago.
“In old trees as time goes-by they gradually die down-wards towards the trunk.
A low-crowned short tree will last longer than a tall one.
Extensive prunings must be done very cautiously, as old trees do not shoot in the same way as younger ones.
Extensive excavation to clear rotten wood from a trunk cavity is not recommend in all cases.
Using shelter/wind breaks is very important in protecting old trees from wind damage.
Where damage is expected it can be prevented by bracing.
The practice of draining hollows by boring a hole through the trunk to act as a permanent escape pipe is, for very obvious reasons, not recommended.
The removal of large branches from old trees should be done with the greatest caution.
The fertilizing of very old trees should be avoided as far as possible or done with the greatest of caution. Artificials with heavy nitrogen should never be used.”
Of course, the other side of the recommendations that also appear in the chapter advocate the use of the following:
“Water must not be allowed to lodge anywhere in the tree, a free run off must be made even if it means cutting away healthy wood.
Plastic bitumen can be used as a coating, cement used to fill a cavity, holes can be blocked by wedging creosoted timber in them and filling with cement, branches with a hollow cavity can be dealt with by ramming a sack soaked in tar or creosote and wedging in position with creosoted wood.
Water cups found in beech must be drained off or emptied and filled up with a creosote wash and concrete.”
Together we mustn’t let these old observations by dedicated men go unheard or unseen. Le Sueur counted tree rings from wind-blown trees and found the age of Burnham Beeches to be little more than 350 years old which today makes them approximately 420 years old. Worth a visit to see them, I’d say!