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Oaks are more slow-growing than those latter two species – and as a result can easily become overtopped (and therefore deprived of sunlight and thus killed) by them in dense forest environments.
By contrast, deer parks, consisting of more open woodland, were ideal habitats for oaks to become truly ancient in – and that is what, courtesy of William the Conqueror and his nobles, seems to have happened in England.
The mighty oak has been central to English history and culture for centuries. A nationwide survey has just revealed that England has more ancient oak trees than the rest of Europe put together.
Over the past four years, tree historians have discovered 1,200 previously unknown but still surviving mediaeval and Tudor oaks, pushing the grand total for such trees in England to a remarkable 3,400.
The survey work has been coordinated by the Woodland Trust, working in conjunction with the Ancient Tree Forum, the Tree Register and the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.As well as increasing England’s ancient oak inventory by more than 50 per cent, the new research also helps to explain why the oak has consistently been more central to English culture than it has been to many continental European ones.Oaks are strongly represented in so many aspects of English history.The greatest single concentration is in part of the Blenheim Palace estate in Oxfordshire.In that one former deer park alone, Dr Farjon has found, over the past four years, 112 ancient oaks which started growing before the year 1600 – and elsewhere in the country he has succeeded in discovering a further 400 of similar vintage.
“Great oaks from little acorns grow” is a proverb of ancient Roman origin – but the new survey shows that, partly courtesy of Italian deer, it is England that now has the greatest abundance of truly ancient oaks in Europe.