A 300-year-old tree that was the the biggest of it's kind in Europe has been scaled back and given emergency surgery due to severe weather damage. The notable 'Champion tree', which is well known for its characteristic 'face' and its girth of over 24ft (7.33m), had developed a massive 10cm wide crack due to a series of 'battles' with natures extremes.
The horse chestnut tree, which was until this week the biggest one in Europe, is found in at the National Trust's Hughenden estate in Buckinghamshire. It's had to be trimmed after storms, fungal infections and this summer's severe heatwave and drought deteriorated its condition.
Nick Charon, Area Ranger for the Central Chilterns, said: "To be able to survive for hundreds of years, Champion trees by design have a good resilience to pests, diseases, and weather. Even so, the extreme weather conditions we have experienced over the past years have taken its toll and we are really starting to see the effects of climate change now."
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Staff are hoping that the successful surgery will give the tree a new lease of life and begin its next step in its evolution, where new saplings can be reproduced before the original trunk collapses. Tom Hill, National Trust Trees and Woodland Adviser, said: "The weight of the living parts of the tree are slowly pulling the outer branch tips to the ground, which gives them a good chance of re-rooting to produce offspring, close to the parent tree.
"Our challenge is to help the tree complete this next step in its evolution gradually over the years ahead and before the original trunk collapses entirely."
National Trust rangers on the estate will also continue to care for the tree by hand-crafting props to hold up heavy branches, and sensitive crown-management - reducing the overall weight on the trunk. These measures will help avoid tears in the important low-hanging branches and provide the tree with the best conditions to put down new roots.
Nick Charon added: “Most Champion trees have lived for a very long time and play an important role in people’s lives as they are a familiar feature in the landscape. "This reproduction is a key phase the tree’s life cycle, as through the new saplings the legacy of Hughenden’s Champion will live on, and this important part of the estate’s history will be preserved. We will not be able to undo the damage already done, but by managing its decline, we can keep it alive for as long as possible."