This week we travelled to St John’s Jerusalem in Sutton-at-Hone for a days work with the volunteer team. St John’s is a lovely house, chapel and garden with a family in residence who maintain the property. The garden and chapel only are open for visitors on Wednesday afternoons from April to October. The ranger team at Petts Wood and Hawkwood are responsible for maintaining the trees in the garden and on the adjacent farm, as well as carrying out regular checks on footpaths for general security and litter.
Our job this week was to remove a large horse chestnut bough that had fallen in to the moat surrounding the gardens. On any other property this would be a tricky task, but it’s complicated further at St John’s as the site is a Scheduled Ancient Monument and we have to take great care not to damage the gardens but also not disturb the silts in the moat or damage the banks. Ordinarily with a job like this we would have attached a winch line to the bough and pulled it out in one go, dealing with it on the bank. In this case we had to get waders on, get in the moat and carefully cut it in to pieces, which the volunteers then passed on to the bank where they were burned on an existing garden bonfire site. Not an easy task but one the team had done in a couple of hours.
The chestnut losing the bough has interesting parallels with Petts Wood at the moment. a couple of oak trees have lost limbs and one large oak collapsed completely a couple of weeks ago. There could be a couple of reasons for this happening – firstly it could be ‘summer drop’, where drought stress causes some large limbs to shear off. Secondly, and I think most likely in the case of the oaks, it has been a year of very heavy mast on some trees, with oaks in particular having a huge crop of acorns. This additional weight on limbs, perhaps coupled with the dry weather we’ve had, can be enough to cause the collapse of whole limbs or trees.
Thankfully no harm done in any of these cases although they have taken some time to clear up, as you can see from the size of the bough in the picture above.