The Law Day Oak

Veteran trees are living relics of incredible age that inspire in us feelings of awe and mystery. They also support wildlife that cannot live anywhere else. They have inspired artists, writers, poets and scientists. One of the trees recently listed by the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers is The Law Day Oak which situated right on the edge of the Kent Downs AONB. It is alleged that from at least the time of Queen Elizabeth I this oak tree has played an important role in the governance of the village. In earlier years the oak has provided a setting for the local courts to hear pleas, and to this day the Bonnington Annual Parish Meeting is held under the branches of this ancient oak. Learned journals have also recorded the myths associated with this ancient oak, including a passage written by Mrs White in 1889:
"In the out-of-the-way villages on the borders of Romney Marsh, the former home of shepherds and smugglers, the light of civilisation has not long shone, and many rites and superstitions connected with the worship of the oak are still persisted in by the inhabitants. A special sacredness appertains to the vows of lovers exchanged beneath the Bonnington oak, and its leaves, gathered with a certain formula at a certain time of night, are still sought by childless women and made into a medicinal draught, with the same intention as i n Druidical days." The tree is 7 metres 82cm in girth and is situated on the village green.

Other sites for Veteran Trees

Lullingstone Country Park , Kingfisher Bridge, Castle Road, Eynsford DA4 0JF has some of the oldest oak and beech trees in England. Originally part of a castle estate, this medieval deer-park retains a sizeable number of ancient trees. Around 300 survive including about 100 oak pollards and 50 hornbeams. Look for beech, ash and sweet chestnut too, some of which are believed to be more than 800 years old.

Shorne Wood Country Park , Brewers Road , Gravesend DA12 3HX . Shorne Wood was once part of the Cobham Hall estate. There are up to 250 veteran trees throughout the site all related to different habitats. In the Coppice woodland look out for veteran ash and sweet chestnut coppice stools, in the Knoll area there are veteran Oak and sweet chestnuts that are remnants of the area being grazed as wood pasture. Hidden in the ancient woodland are towering veteran Oak pollards, Beech and Hornbeam. Follow the new explorer trail to see the trees.

The National Trust property at Knole has a deer-park which covers some 1,000 acres and is a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). This is in fact Kent’s only surviving deer-park, perhaps because unusually the grounds weren’t given the Brown/Repton landscaped design that was so common in the 18th century. As well as the herd of deer, you can see spot the remaining ancient beech trees, as well as a number of other noteworthy old trees, although the great storm of 1987 did take out 70% of the trees here.

Farningham Woods Nature Reserve This ancient woodland covers the top of a hill to the north of Farningham Village and is a distinctive feature in the landscape. It is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), which means it is one of the most valuable areas of woodland in Kent. It is home to the Small-Leaved Lime, a rare tree which is only found on one other site in Kent. There are several other unusual plants here including the largest British colony of the nationally rare Deptford Pink. There is a waymarked 1.6 mile walking route taking in most of the site as well as a network of other paths. Farningham Woods can be accessed from the A225 south of Horton Kirby, where a car park is located at the end of Calfstock Lane. Alternatively. The nearest station is at Farningham Road, two miles north of Calfstock Lane.

Churchyards are a good place to see veteran yew trees, some of which can be over 1000 years old. Molash Churchyard is one of Kent’s finest multiple tree sites. There are 6 yew trees with girths over 5 metres. Chilham Church has a very old yew tree believed to have been planted about 690AD. Half of it was removed in 1792 so that the villagers could see the church clock. It was damaged again in the storms of 1987 but still survives. Crundale Churchyard has a veteran yew and a tree maple. Godmersham Churchyard has a very old yew tree. Eastling Church has a substantial Yew tree, by the West Door which has been dated at more than 2,000 years old. Small Yews, cultivated from cuttings taken from this tree, were distributed to a number of other Kent churches in celebration of the Millennium.
If you know of an ancient or veteran tree in your area please let us know.

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For further information see http://www.ancient-tree-hunt.org.uk

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