Ria Oaks find hope in a harsh environment
During National Tree Week, the South Hams Tree Wardens (SHTW), in collaboration with Kingswear Parish Council, planted 250 acorns of the rather unusual and remarkable Oak, the Dart Ria Oak.
Unlike the upland sessile oaks, the Ria Oaks of South Devon are able to survive the harsh environmental conditions of the Ria Estuary. These estuarine trees have a very different structure from other oaks; they’re rarely hollow, which gives the timber immense strength. The trees are of great cultural value and are intertwined with the history of the Ria estuaries and in days gone by, the timber was valued for sculpting ship figureheads.
However, these magnificent trees are fast disappearing from Devon’s shoreline, for a variety of reasons.
Threats from increasing pests and diseases, soil compaction from changes in agricultural practices and an increased frequency of salt laden winds dumping more salt on the soils these trees rely on are just a few challenges these trees face, as do many other trees in the area. Storms are also eroding already fragile soils and there are fewer Dart Ria Oaks available to replace and maintain the landscape.
The Dart Ria Oak Project is vitally important and is ‘…something very positive that the South Hams Tree Warden Network is proud to be part of’, said Thelma Rumsey (Tree Warden Co-ordinator, SHTW Network).
The Dart Ria Oak project started this summer with initial research and finding land for a suitable tree nursery, which Kingswear Parish Council kindly provided, and intends the project to run for 5 years focussing on three main aspects:
Using historical documentation including fine art, the SHTW will define the changes to the landscape in the last 250 years. Research will continue to identify the areas at greatest risk, as well as the trees and woodland which have remained untouched and are therefore of high value. This information will be used as a resource for reintroducing the trees required to preserve the landscape for future generations.
Aiming to create and test different soil samples throughout the watershed areas soil assessments will continue to be made over the project’s lifetime. Understanding the soil type is a vital component of the project due to the genetic variation of the trees, which are site specific. With provenance in mind, Pip Howard, a silviculturalist (from SHTW) whose interest is in the ancient woodland bordering the Ria estuaries and the moor edge, planted the aforementioned 250 Ria acorns, which were gathered along the estuary according to their specific soil types.
Replanting the Oaks
Using schools, and other community groups within the watershed communities, it's planned to identify the trees of greatest value to the local people and to gather acorns from these trees. Acorns were gathered from 3 sites, with other sites planned for acorn collection next year.