BLOG: Getting to the root of a “treemendous” task

Peter Howson, the city council’s Principal Tree Officer, has been on a career defining mission – to support Liverpool’s oldest and most majestic inhabitant…

I have been a Tree Officer at Liverpool City Council for over 27 years, in that time I am proud of many achievements, but this week one of my longest outstanding aspirations was finally realised. 

You may or may not know that in Calderstones Park we have a very special tree. The Allerton Oak, a very large and old Sessile Oak (Quercus petrae) which is probably the oldest oak in our region.

Local lore has it to be around 1,000 years old and it gets a mention in the Doomsday Book as the setting for a ‘medieval hundred court’. It has had an interesting history, including potentially being damaged in a gunpowder explosion!

If you haven’t seen the tree it is well worth taking a look, it’s located just north of the old Mansion House – now occupied by the Reader Organisation – it’s a magnificent specimen. There’s also a helpful sign there, that gives you lots more information.

In 2019 it was voted the English ‘Tree of the Year’ and it was the runner-up in the European competition. 

Given its size age – and potential encounter with gunpowder – the oak has needed a little help for a long time.  In the early 1900’s and again in the 1960’s metal props were installed to add support to its large limbs and branches.

As the tree has continued to grow, the weight on these props has caused them to bend and bow to a point where they were likely to fail and cause the tree to collapse. So from 2018 we started seriously looking at replacing these props and ensuring the tree would be here for many generations to come. 

It hasn’t been a quick process, when you’re the custodian of such a rare asset there isn’t an off-the-shelf solution and it has taken time securing the funding and procuring the right supplier which was in this case Bartlett Tree Services. 

Internationally recognised (and contractors to the Queen) they are experts in all things trees and it has been a pleasure collaborating with them on this project and looking at best practice and innovation in an industry that is growing and changing each year. 

Together with the engineers we finally agreed to ,a prop solution that we were all happy with when the world was thrown into a global pandemic and all plans had to be put on hold. 

But as soon as we could, we picked up where we left off. We got the props made and last week I stood by whilst the first prop was installed and I felt an immense sense of achievement. 

Years in the making, we now have props that will support our special oak for years to come. 

Removing old props with new ones to support the many limbs of the ancient Allerton Oak, in Calderstones Park

But this project hasn’t just been about replacing the old props, we’ve also looked at the tree’s health and condition, testing and checking that she will continue to thrive and Bartlett will visit and check on the oak’s progress in the coming months and years. 

In my job there are many satisfying moments, when we plant a new tree, but nothing will beat knowing that I was part of a truly unique project like this and something that will be here long after we’re all gone.  

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