Kent's tallest tree finally felled after Easter storm damage

'The Old Man of Kent', an ancient silver fir at Bedgebury Arboretum, was felled yesterday after damage from Storm Katie revealed it was on its last legs.

The Old Man of Kent being felled. Image: Bedgebury Arboretum
The Old Man of Kent being felled. Image: Bedgebury Arboretum

The 150-year old tree was Kent's tallest, and has been an iconic part of the Forestry Commission's conifer collection at Bedgebury National Pinetum, near Goudhurst, Kent.

Following Storm Katie on Easter Monday 2016, staff were saddened to find significant damage to the "Old Man of Kent", a grand silver fir, Abies grandis. One of the tree's three top branches was snapped off during the high winds, and closer inspection of the fallen branch showed it was diseased.

A further independent survey by arboricultural consultants Sylvanarb revealed that the tree had severely decayed and was in poor physiological and structure condition.

Standing at 50 metres tall, the tree - part of the original Bedgebury estate plantings - was regarded with great affection by Bedgebury's many visitors and staff over the years.

Its height, location and condition meant specialist arboricultural contractors Greencut Horticultural were engaged to remove the "Old Man of Kent", using an elevated platform and dismantling it sections at a time.

It is hoped that some of the good timber can be used to create a lasting piece of art for the Pinetum. Brushwood and other pieces of timber will be made into mulch and woodchip that can be used around the site at Bedgebury.

But all is not lost. Last year a Bedgebury-led team of conservation experts travelled to the Pacific Northwest coast of America last year on a seed-collecting expedition, bringing back wild-collected seed of Abies grandis. Some of these seeds have recently been successfully propagated, and the new seedlings will be used to replace the "Old Man of Kent".

Dan Luscombe, Bedgebury Pinetum curator, said, "Even though Abies grandis is not currently endangered in the wild the loss of a special tree like the "Old Man of Kent" is still significant.

"Who knows, in another 150 years' time, when our new seedlings reach maturity, this species of tree could be endangered in the wild, and this reinforces the work that we carry out here at Bedgebury; being important for the international conservation of conifers." Bedgebury is cared for by the Forestry Commission.

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