Monday, January 09, 2012

...Ancient Hollies...

Back in November 2011, I took part in a Radio 4 interview about some of Europe's oldest Holly trees. These strange, ancient trees can be found growing on the north eastern slopes of The Stiperstones, managed by Natural England in Shropshire.
There are between 200 and 300 of these gnarled, twisted old characters that research has suggested may be upto 400 years old. A unique achievement for Holly trees?
What are they doing there? How have they hung on for so long, despite hundreds of years of wind, rain, snow and sun? The answer may be quite suprising- neglect.
It's by simple virtue of the fact that they have been ignored for generations that their survival has been ensured.
My favourite theory is that they were once part of a woodland, surrounded by oak, birch, rowan and ash, but locals used the more useful timber first and ignored the poorer Holly. Holly wood shouldn't be burnt either, as it gives off toxic, headache-inducing smoke.
This fact alone may have been enough to spark many superstitious stories about bad luck befalling anyone who dares to cut these Hollies down. Stories were, and still are the short cut to educating a new generation in an entertaining and memorable way.
It seems the only use for these trees was as a last ditch food for livestock during harsh upland winters. Small boys were often sent up the trees to collect the less prickly leaves growing above grazing height. Pruning of trees in this way is called pollarding and has a long tradition in woodland management.

If you are ever in the area, be sure to visit this strange and beautiful location, owned and managed by Shropshire Wildlife Trust. There's so many unanswered questions about these trees that anyone with research, stories or theories of their own will always have something to add to the debate.

Listen to the Radio 4 Living World interview here.

Find out more about the Hollies nature reserve here

Read Martin Harvey's (Kitenet) "Extreme Entomology at the Hollies" post here.


  1. Welcome to the world of blogging Sara

  2. Thank you! I've been wanting to do this for ages and really glad I've started. Love your blog by the way...

  3. Hi Sara, I've just added a write-up of my bug-hunting visit to The Hollies here:

    (have linked to your blog as well!)

    1. Thanks Martin! Loved your post. Is this a new craze starting? Extreme Entomology? If so, count me in.