Tony Drakeford's nature notes

THE MIGHTY OAK

Studies of tree pollen samples give us an insight into the sequence by which different tree species colonised Britain after the last Ice Age.

The common or pedunculate oak arrived on the scene about 7000 years ago and predominated in the 'wildwood' which clothed much of the country in prehistoric times.

For centuries thereafter, the oak featured widely in the magic of folklore and religion.

The outstanding qualities of felled timber combining strength with malleability were recognised early by ever-resourceful man, employing such attributes to an infinite variety of manufactured items.

The stout ships of Nelson's navy required over a thousand mature trees to build a single vessel whilst the wood was used for dwellings, furniture and tools.

Oaks support a vast range of animals, birds, plants, fungi and lichens all relying on the tree to nurture, feed or shelter them, having become adapted to the oak over such a long period of time.

More insects derive sustenance from oaks than any other arboreal species Over 150 species of moth feed on oak leaves. Stand under an oak in early spring ad we can hear what sounds like rain falling but in fact, it is the droppings of millions of caterpillars falling onto the woodland floor.

Beetles feature widely. The stag beetle lays eggs on rotting timber and the finger-sized larvae or 'little rotters' as I call them spend up to seven years feeding before becoming adults.

Surprisingly perhaps only one butterfly, namely the purple hairstreak, lays eggs on next year's terminal buds.

Nuthatch, tits and woodpigeons plus many other species use the oak and jays eat acorns, burying many. Those they forget may form the beginnings of a new oak wood while squirrels build dreys in the upper branches.

The oak is indeed a most bountiful tree.