Book Review by Peter Savill
Owen Johnson (editor)
Champion trees of Britain and Ireland
Whittet Books Ltd, Hill Farm, Stonham Rd, Cotton, Stowmarket, Suffolk IP14 4RQ
2003. Pp 192. 30 x 21 cm
Price £25, or £17.50 (excluding postage) to Woodland Heritage members
This book lists historic, large, rare and remarkable trees growing in Britain and Ireland. It is published by the Tree Register, a charity that maintains a database of such trees. Information is provided on 3500 ‘champions’ of 2020 different species or varieties. It is considerably more ambitious than its predecessor, the 1994 booklet Champion Trees in the British Isles, published by the Tree Register in association with the Forestry Commission. It has a short introduction by the renowned tree photographer Thomas Pakenham, who provides a history of the recording of ‘prodigious’ trees. This started with John Evelyn in his famous Sylva of 1664, followed by the publications of Loudon in 1838 and Elwes and Henry from 1906-1913. This new book originated from the records compiled by the late Alan Mitchell, though they have been greatly amplified since his death in 1995. It shows well that many hundreds of species and thousands of varieties of trees grow marvellously well in Britain and Ireland.
Almost half of the book is a directory, ordered alphabetically by scientific names of the species and varieties covered, 98% of which are non-native. Information is provided on origins, date of first cultivation in Britain or Ireland, frequency, and details of the champion trees recorded, including their locations, heights and diameters. The other main part is the Gazetteer which lists locations, by county, and then alphabetically by site. Where necessary, Ordnance Survey grid references are provided. The book also has good indexes, a glossary, a bibliography, 84 colour photographs and text boxes that provide additional information about some genera.
Douglas firs are the tallest trees in Scotland (62 m), Wales (61.5 m), England (57 m) and the Republic of Ireland (56.5 m). In Northern Ireland the tallest is a 57 m Sitka spruce. The rarest is an 11.5 m tall Ley’s Whitebeam (Sorbus leyana) in the Taff Valley in Wales. Only 16 wild examples of this species are known, all in the same valley.
The book will be invaluable to anyone who enjoys finding and looking at impressive trees. Unfortunately its dimensions, at 30 x 21 cm, make it a little unwieldy to carry around in the field. A handier pocket- or at least rucksack-sized edition would have been easier to use. Nevertheless, for tree enthusiasts, it is an indispensable reference book.