Beech trees face an uncertain future as the south of England becomes drier. Would Beech trees sourced from drier climates be better equipped?
My main work for 2022 is to write a Tree and Landscape Strategy Plan for Kew. This is a new document; Kew has not had such a strategy before. I have just finished the Management Strategy for all of the vistas. The grounds at Kew include a historic landscape and a UNESCO heritage site.
The new strategy provides a structured management plan, including pro-active felling and replacement of certain trees. The strategy is planned to last for twenty years. It is being reviewed by the Curator of the Living Collection and then the full Kew board. It will then be an official document.
The past twelve months since I started my new role have been a time of transition. This continues as I prepare to hand over the tree inspection role to the new Arborist Manager. Having spent the past decade focusing on a role of tree risk management, I am increasingly working on collection management. It involves more work on problem solving and looking at data. I am pleasantly surprised to find how much I am enjoying this work, especially considering how practical my background has been.
One of the differences I now find is that I am being asked to contribute to more committees and working groups. One of these is chairing the review group for Trailblazers, which is the National Apprenticeship Scheme for Arboriculture. More than 800 people have attended this course since its launch, but only 14 have successfully completed. It is an important course because it is introducing the next generation (16+) to arboriculture as a profession.
One of the issues with the course is that material seems to be too demanding. I am keen to share the technical elements of tree care, and find the complexities of tree biology personally fascinating. However, for 16-18 year-olds, it needs to be in bite sizes! I’ll be working with that team to fine-tune the contents in the months to come.
I am also on the HSE Committee for tree safety, the Westonbirt Advisory Committee and the Plant Collecting Committee.
When I was the Tree Manager, my training focus was on tree safety matters. Last week, I met with Henrik Sjoman to explore some of the details of our project on eco habitat management. This will be a project of at least three years and is now part of my job plan.
Next week, I have a day of training in working with the media. My work is, indeed, different now.
Eco-habitat matching update
Work is progressing on the Eco-habitat matching research project I have discussed before. Many trees we have planted over the past century and longer have been selected based on their horticultural characteristics such as height, leaf colour and shape and growth rate. Many of these trees, and especially those planted in the past 2-3 decades, have died prematurely. I have realised that trees which are least equipped to deal with drought conditions at Kew Gardens are more vulnerable to premature dead.
The eco-habitat project is exploring whether trees from habitats similar to those here in Kew would thrive better, regardless of the species.
Henrik Sjoman, who is based in Sweden and has extensive experience in researching drought tolerance in trees, is leading the project. He recently became an Associate Research Fellow at Kew. He has written the proposal for the research and a team of researchers is being assembled. We are joined by Harry Watkins, based at Sheffield University. He is working on a Ph D exploring eco habitat matching in Magnolias in Japan. Ben James, based at Hartcourt Gardens in Oxford has just completed his MSc exploring niche ecotypes in Oxford to inform future plant selections. We are exploring whether there is a natural tolerance to drought in the trees selected for the research. My work at Kew has shown which trees struggle in drought conditions. We now want to explore ‘why?’ Are trees which grow in environments where there is a lack of water genetically equipped to respond to the conditions?
At Kew, I have access to the records of 14,000 trees, including which trees are thriving and those which are not, and the ecosystem each came from. I have noticed that Acers, many of which came from Sichwain in China, have suffered a high mortality rate. There were several plant collecting expeditions between 1989 and 2000.
Many of the trees at Kew were collected from riverside habitats in a mountain area. How will trees collected from locations with similar rainfall fare?
Growing trees in botanical gardens ensures closer monitoring of growth and more post-planting maintenance. Here at Kew, we have the added benefit of access to the Mileniuum Seed Bank. One of the trials we want to run is to plant Hornbeam (Carpinus) sourced from South wales, the South Wales, the Midlands, Scotland, France and Spain at Kew, and to monitor growth rates.
When we better understand what influences the way a tree respond to more difficult growing conditions, we can then work with the tree nurseries growing the next generation, to ensure they are using tree stock with the resilience to thrive in a range of habitats.