Ancient Oaks (2020) & Oak Pollard (2020)
Stephen Davis is a retired ecologist, with a long career working for nature conservation organisations in both the UK and Europe. His interests lie in the dynamic ecological processes of growth, decline and decay exhibited by trees, and the multiple ecological niches that persist during the life (and death) of the tree. These images form part of a documentary series of photographs illustrating the ancient oak trees of Savernake Forest in Wiltshire.
In Ancient Oaks these trees are growing amongst much younger (twentieth century-planted) beech trees and are also characterised by deeply fissured bark, broken limbs, splits, wounds and fractures, rot holes, bare branches, and occasionally completely stag-headed crowns and hollowed out trunks which tell of a grand history. The trees are not tall and straight but instead have relatively short squat trunks (the oldest being over fourteen metres in circumference), and with magnificent spreading crowns, some with multiple ascending branches illustrating the historic practice of pollarding.
What is striking in Oak Pollard is the diameter of the ascending branches which are many times larger than the younger standard oak and beech trees that occur across the forest. These limbs develop their own ecosystem, of plants, ferns and lichens.
This is a dynamically changing forest subject to both short and long term cycles of growth and decay. It supports many rare insects, flies and beetles which are specialists feeding on dead wood. The forest also supports over a hundred species of lichen and more than five hundred species of fungi.