The team at Sherwood were joined by BBC’s Springwatch recently to find out what secrets the Major Oak revealed, by looking more closely at its roots.

Helen Moffatt, Communications Project Manager Sherwood Forest VC & NNR from the RSPB, provided us with a fantastic insight into what the team got up to but you’ll have to find out what was revealed by watching the show, you can catch up by clicking here!


Helen Moffatt said…

The BBC Springwatch team joined us at Sherwood recently, as we used some of the latest technology to check on one of the oldest trees around.

When we brought in arboricultural consultants, Sharon Hosegood Associates to scan the roots of the Major Oak at Sherwood, we really didn’t know what we’d find – or where we’d find them!

It seems amazing that we could know so little about the root system of such a well-known and loved tree, which has over-looked this site for a millennium.   But thanks to Sharon and her team, the Major Oak was finally going to give up some secrets about what goes on underneath this colossus.

The root scan involves using specialist radar equipment, which scans the root system, and picks up healthy roots of around 2cm in diameter.

RSPB ecologist Andy Skinner said the work was commissioned to help identify if there are any obvious health problems with the tree, and to gather information which will help in its future care.  The Major Oak is such an important tree that it has its own management plan.

“Staff working here have reported over the last couple of years that the leaves of the Major Oak are looking a little yellow, which can be a sign that all is not well.  Obviously, the tree is around 1,000 years old, and age will play a part in this, but still, we wanted to see if the roots would give us any further clues about the tree’s health,” Andy explained.

The area around the Major Oak has been fenced off since the 1970s, but prior to this, since Victorian times, the tree has been a huge tourist attraction, and people would walk all around it, touch it, and even climb inside it.

This intensive footfall compacted the soil around the tree, stopping water getting very far into the ground, or being able to drain away. This affected the fungi crucial to the root system too.  The area was fenced and then over the years, various treatments applied, such as mulching, not all of which have been very successful.

“Before the scan, we didn’t know exactly where the roots were,” said Andy. “This may sound strange, but there’s only so much you can find out above ground without this kind of technology.

“We don’t know if they are sitting near the top in very compacted soil, or if they are much lower, or if they have moved off to one side where they’ve found better conditions.”

The radar work took most of the day, as the team scanned a wide area around the oak. It stands quite a distance from its nearest neighbours, which was great for the scan, giving  Sharon the best chance of identifying the right roots.

Then, after a couple of hours of intense data crunching and analysis, the results were in!

A donation from the Pauline Meredith Charitable Trust made the work possible.