New Seedlings from Conservation Expedition will Replace Kent’s Tallest Tree

Kent’s tallest tree, the “Old Man of Kent”, has been an iconic part of the Forestry Commission’s conifer collection at Bedgebury National Pinetum, near Goudhurst, Kent, and sadly it has now reached the end of its natural life and was felled yesterday.

Following Storm Katie on Easter Monday 2016, staff were saddened to find significant damage to the “Old Man of Kent”, a grand silver fir, Abies grandis. One of the tree’s three top branches was snapped off during the high winds, and closer inspection of the fallen branch revealed that it was diseased. A further independent survey by arboricultural consultants Sylvanarb revealed that the tree had severely decayed and was in poor physiological and structure condition.

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Believed to be around 150 years old and standing at 50 metres tall, the tree which was part of the original Bedgebury estate plantings, has become well-known as Kent’s tallest tree and well regarded with great affection by Bedgebury’s many visitors and staff over the years.

Its height, location and condition meant specialist arboricultural contractors Greencut Horticultural Ltd were engaged to remove the “Old Man of Kent”, using an elevated platform and dismantling it sections at a time. It is hoped that some of the good timber can be used to create a lasting piece of art for the Pinetum. Brushwood and other pieces of timber will be made into mulch and woodchip that can be used around the site at Bedgebury.

Whilst it is sad when a majestic old tree comes to the end of its natural life, the important conservation work that is carried out at Bedgebury means that there is hope for the future protection of endangered species with new seedlings being grown in the nursery all the time. Fortunately, a Bedgebury led team of conservation experts travelled to the Pacific Northwest coast of America on a collaborative seed-collecting expedition in 2015, which enabled them to bring back wild collected seed of Abies grandis (the “Old Man of Kent”). Some of these seeds have recently been successfully propagated, and these new seedlings will be used to replace the “Old Man of Kent”

Dan Luscombe, Bedgebury Pinetum curator, said,

‘Even though Abies grandis is not currently endangered in the wild the loss of a special tree like the “Old Man of Kent” is still significant.  Who knows, in another 150 years’ time, when our new seedlings reach maturity, this species of tree could be endangered in the wild, and this reinforces the work that we carry out here at Bedgebury ; being important for the international conservation of conifers.’

Bedgebury is cared for by the Forestry Commission for people, wildlife and trees.