Volunteer blog: Britain’s rarest trees get volunteer TLC

SonjaSonja is Volunteer Manager at The Dartington Hall Trust. She recently returned from managing community and healthcare volunteer projects in South Africa and Mozambique. More about volunteering at Dartington

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This week, we’ve been dealing with one of Britain’s rarest native trees- the Black Poplar (Populus nigra subsp. Betulifolia).

There are thought to be only 7000 left in Britain, most of which are in the Vale of Aylesbury. Until recently the Black Poplar was largely a forgotten tree. It was assumed to be one of the many types of hybrid poplars that are visible in rows in many urban landscapes.

We are lucky enough on the Dartington Estate to have 4 Black Poplar trees. There are planted in pairs (male and female) so that they can pollinate.

On Monday, two of our Woodland and Conservation volunteers (Hilary and Richard) assisted Estate Warden Mike to give the trees some much needed love and attention.

Climbing inside the stock proof tree guard, they weeded and cut back overgrown vegetation with slashers and loppers. Two van loads of mulch was then spread on the soil. The mulch plays an important role in giving extra nutrients to the tree, stopping evaporation and protecting the tree from frost damage. Also I think you’ll agree, it is much more aesthetically pleasing.

Before and after views of the Black Poplar conservation process
Before and after views of the Black Poplar conservation process

The Woodlands and Conservation team did this in a record PB time. Time from start to finish for this pen was an impressive 1 hour 45 minutes!

Mike the Estate Warden is very grateful for the help he receives from our volunteers: “Helping to conserve one of Britain’s rarest trees makes me feel good about my work.

“Without the volunteers, this task would have been so much harder. The enthusiasm and speed at which the volunteers work is incredible- speed mulching!!”

Further Information

The four black poplars were donated to Dartington from Roger Jefcoate in 2010 to coincide with the Queen’s visit to Dartington.

They are a wetland tree and used to grow in flood plains and lined rivers. They have declined in numbers due to loss of habitat (urbanisation, land drainage and canalisation of rivers) and a faster growing hybrid (P.nigra x euramericana)

Black poplar timber was in much demand in the 17th and 18th centuries. It is a fire retardant wood so used to be used for flooring near fire places.



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