- Britain’s biggest and most famous oak tree became the inaugural England’s Tree of the Year after a public vote organised by the Woodland Trust.
- Technically, it’s a Quercus robur, an English or pedunculate oak. Pedunculate tells us that the acorns grow on a stalk, unlike those of Britain’s other native oak, Quercus petraea, which are stalkless (sessile).
- The Major Oak is just one of almost 1,000 ancient oaks in Sherwood Forest.
- It’s uncertain whether what we see now is a single tree or a group of saplings that have fused together.
- Famously hollowed by fungi and bacteria, since the oak’s heartwood has rotted away, traditional methods can’t be used to date it. It’s no spring chicken: estimates range from 600+ to 1000+ years.
- The Major Oak’s age and expansive canopy – it’s 28 metres (92 feet) wide – can be put down to its fortunate site in a clearing in Sherwood Forest which became a protected Royal hunting estate after the Norman Conquest in 1066.
- Slow growing trees often live longest, so the fact that the acorn germinated on impoverished soil might have been another stroke of luck. The trunk’s girth has increased by a little over 1 cm per year from the 8.3 m (27ft 4in) recorded by Major Hayman Rooke in 1790 to its current 11 m (36 ft).
- The oak has been fenced off for almost 50 years so that its many fans could not kill it through fervour by trampling around it, compacting the soil.
- It wears the tree version of a corset: chains attached to steel bands were fitted to help support the canopy in 1908.
- A succession of timber props supporting the heavy branches were updated by a metal framework earlier this century. The framework makes the tree look like a more stilted cousin of spacecraft in Henrique Alvim Corrêa’s illustrations for War of the Worlds.
- Other historical names include the Cockpen Tree and Queen Oak. Major’s Oak (later Major Oak) came about when Major Hayman Rooke featured an illustration of the oak in his book about Sherwood Forest’s ancient trees. Major Oak Day is celebrated on his birthday, 20th February.
- Legends help us imagine Robin Hood and his Merry Men dozing in its branches, but if the forest once had a real band who defended the common people from tyranny, they most likely slept in another tree.
Other facts and links
Check out nottinghamshire.gov.uk for lots more about the history of Sherwood Forest.
Action Oak is an initiative that brings together 30 different organisations to research the UK’s oak trees, monitor their health and spread the word about their importance and so protect them for future generations. The website features atmospheric pictures and outlines projects and ways to get involved, such as following them on social media.
It’s hard for us to grasp how oaks, particularly ancient ones such as the Major Oak, are hubs in our natural world. A recent study of birds, bryophytes (e.g. mosses and liverworts), invertebrates, fungi, lichens and mammals identified 2300 species that feed directly or indirectly on our two native British oaks (Quercus robur and Quercus petraea) or use them as a habitat for living, nesting or roosting. Researchers counted 38 bird species, 229 bryophytes, 108 fungi, 1178 invertebrates, 716 lichens and 31 mammals (excluding Merry Men). Of these, 326 are found only on oak and another 229 are rarely found on other tree species.
Credits for the research:
Mitchell, RJ, Bellamy, PE, Ellis, CJ, Hewison, RL, Hodgetts, NG, Iason, GR, Littlewood, NA Newey, S, Stockan, JA, Taylor, AFS. (2019) Collapsing foundations: the ecology of the British oak, implications of its decline and mitigation options. Biological Conservation. DOI 10.1016/j. biocon.2019.03.040
Shared for Becky’s TreeSquares. I’ve delved into my archives for this!