Emergency surgery carried out on Hughenden’s Champion horse chestnut tree

Emergency surgery carried out on Hughenden’s Champion horse chestnut tree

Europe’s largest horse chestnut tree, at Hughenden, has had to undergo emergency tree surgery this week as a large crack has opened up in its main trunk.

The 300 year old horse chestnut was designated Champion status in 2014 after rangers measured its girth. At 7.33m (just over 24 feet) it was officially verified as 13cm larger than its nearest rival in Whitchurch, Hampshire. It’s an important, iconic tree, which recently featured in the book ’50 Great Trees of the National Trust’.

‘We’re extremely sad to see it declining,’ says Nicholas Charon, Area Ranger for the Central Chilterns, ‘It’s grown so well over the years because of its location next to a chalk stream, but it’s now in the final third of its life and we’re doing what we can to extend that. We’re continuing to work with natural processes and the living parts of the crown to see if we can keep the tree going. It has had everything thrown at it in the last few years, including storms, intense droughts, leaf miner attacks and ganoderma fungus weakening its trunk. Honey fungus, which can often signal the final straw for ailing trees, has also moved in.’

However, there is hope. ‘It’s doing what horse chestnuts of that age and condition do naturally to ensure the next generation,’ says Tom Hill, National Trust Trees and Woodland Adviser. ‘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.’

The latest round of works are designed to give the veteran tree the very best chance of survival. These include sensitive crown reductions to take some of the weight from the ends of the branches and propping some branches up with hand-crafted props made from fallen timber from the Hughenden estate. This is to prevent the lower branches tearing and gives the team time to build up the soil beneath the remaining limbs to encourage them to meet the ground and put down new roots. A new estate fence will then be erected around the tree to prevent the conservation grazing cattle from munching the lower leaves that develop.

‘We’re currently creating a long-term vision and clear framework for protecting our ancient and veteran trees across the National Trust,’ says Tom Hill. ‘We need extra funding to achieve all the work that is needed, but in the meantime, it’s essential to prevent our really important trees from disappearing.’

Press release via National Trust

Chilterns ANOB

Hughenden champion tree, Credit: National Trust - Katy Dunn.

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