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Our love of Wild Service Trees

Great Groves Wood in Ware, Hertfordshire, won Silver in the 2019 Excellence in Forestry Small and Farm Woodlands Awards. Owners Marcus and Joan Dixon believe they have one of the largest collections of wild service trees (Sorbus torminalis) in the county and explain how they have been following the development of these trees closely.

Wild service trees may be one of the species planted more widely in coming years as managers look to increase woodland resilience in the face of climate change, pests and diseases. Find out more about Wild Service Trees, their site requirements and timber characteristics here.

 

Our Love of Wild Service Trees

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Joan and Marcus Dixon receiving their Excellence in Forestry Silver award from Dr Owen Davies

We bought Great Groves and its associated secondary woodland, Grays Plantation in May 1994. We wanted to enjoy walking our dogs and relaxing there. We knew nothing about wild service trees. However, a member of the Countryside Management Service soon told us that we had a fine collection. There were 12 mature specimens. One has since died. They are concentrated in the south eastern part of the wood.

We don’t know how old our mature wild service trees are but a branch about 50 years old was accidentally knocked off one of them. The circumferences at breast height of the deeply shaded trees range from 78 to 192 cm. A more open grown tree measures 220cm. Are they all the same age with size affected by soil conditions or light? We don’t know.

In the south east of Great Groves we have recently found 22 saplings and six tiny seedlings (rabbits love them). Several saplings which we found many years ago have disappeared.

Wild service trees are highly individual. Each tree’s leaf shape is a variation on a basic pattern and we have pressed collections of autumn leaves. Some trees bear fruit, others do not.

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Open grown wild service tree by pond Bark of the juvenile tree

 

The only ‘useful’ things our trees have given us are six coasters cut from the 50 year-old branch. However they are excellent for wildlife with clusters of insect pollinated creamy-white flowers in spring and bunches of brown berries in autumn. We have not tasted the berries ourselves. 

Wild service trees can reproduce by seed or by root suckers. We have read that generally English summers are too cold for fertile seed production but we have not found this. We have grown hundreds of trees from seed. We have planted 46 in Grays and given many more away including to the University of Wales at Bangor.

Our Grays trees now have a circumference of 31cm on average with smooth gray-green juvenile bark punctured by thousands of brownish lenticels. Several have flowered and fruited for a few years. 

Young wild service trees send up many branches which grow vertically rivalling the leader. We prune our Grays trees formatively every winter to encourage apical dominance. 

We are very proud to be the custodians of our beautiful wild service tree collection. With their uniquely shaped leaves they stand out in the woodland, especially in autumn when the leaves turn coppery gold.

 Interest is growing in using the timber commercially and with global warming we can expect to see wild service tree plantations in Britain in the future as we do in France now.