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The Ancient Chestnuts On Chipperfield Common

2nd of February 1997

Everyone who knows Chipperfield Common is aware of the splendid specimens of ancient sweet chestnut trees that are scattered around its eastern half. There has been much speculation as to their age and there have been suggestions that they could go back as far as to the 12th century.
It was therefore interesting to read a report that the Woodland Services Unit at Dacorum Borough Council kindly sent recently to the Parish Council. They had commissioned the report from Mr John White, a consultant dendrologist, to get an authoritative idea of the age of these trees and to obtain recommendations for their future care. With his permission, a number of the main points from the report are summarised here for the benefit of all those who are attracted by these venerable trees.
From detailed calculations based on their basal girth and extensive records of ring growths for chestnuts, Mr White estimates that the original trees date back to between 1600 and 1620.
The local soils are not ideal for chestnut growth, but the poorish soils and good light intensity will have been good for fruit quality, and the nuts were probably used for both human and animal consumption.
The trees would have been pollarded from time to time for fencing and perhaps hop poles, but probably not firewood.

The following points have been made regarding each tree or group of trees:
1. Three trees alongside Footpath 7 (The Windmill to the Manor House) to the south of the cricket pavilion. The southernmost of the three trees is the oldest, 20 metres high and dating probably to 1618. The other two are seedlings from the beginning of the 19th century. Little needs to be done to them, but it might be a good idea to plant a further three for posterity.
2. One tree on the cricket field boundary. This tree is a badly damaged 15-metre high specimen. It would benefit from a post and rail fence to relieve the public pressure on its roots and stem.
3. Tree on the right-hand side of Footpath 8 (Old Vicarage to the Apostles Pond). This is regarded as a splendid specimen, being 20 metres high and having a basal area of 27,464 sq. cms. Its largest vertical branch is 107 years old, giving an indication of the time since its last ‘commercial’ pollarding. No particular treatment is called for.
4. Tree on the left-hand side of Footpath 8 (Old Vicarage to Apostles Pond) just before the pond itself. This is a lost cause with approximately 80% bark death. It has been in decline for 130 years. A replacement tree should be planted nearby.
5. Tree to South of permissive bridle path along the eastern side of the Common just south of Bucks Hill Stables. This tree is almost as bad as tree 4, having 75% stem bark missing. It should be left alone with a replacement planted nearby.
6. Tree to the left of the wide track from near the cricket pavilion to the bridle path along the south side of The Common. An outstanding specimen in a prime position with a huge basal area of 32,685 sq. ems. Its larger girth could be due to its being of greater age than the others, but Mr White considers that it is more likely to be due to better soil conditions, thus dating all the six main trees to the same period in the early 17th century.
David Nobbs

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