CHAMPION TREES OF BRITAIN AND IRELAND: The Tree Register Handbook

by Owen Johnson

ISBN 978-1842464526

Paperback
£25

Knowing where the most prestigious trees are situated is not just a nice thing to do, but rather an essential task. Never before have our UK trees and woody plants faced such a multitude of threats to their health and ultimately their survival, ranging from changing weather patterns, urban development or new pests and diseases.

So what is a champion tree and why record it?  A champion tree is the best of its kind.  A champion is not just the tallest but could be the heaviest, oldest, most spreading or even most the most beautiful. This book does not just describe where you might find those giants of the tree world but also the most noteworthy specimens. These fantastic trees individually or collectively are our green heritage and often hold a genetic key if threatened as wild forms.

A couple of small criticisms: elements of the key to tree measurements are difficult to get to grips with and some of the typeface in the introduction is small and intense. The genus in the listings could have been highlighted or in a bigger text. However these did not and should not detract from the staggering amount of effort that has been put into collecting this data and the excitement once you realise you are near or may have seen a champion.

I really liked the idea of adding a ‘near you’ section listing the champions or noteworthy specimens in areas of the UK.  This eases the pain of having to trawl through endless genus to find out what if anything is worth looking at in your locality. Near Truro (not forgetting the numerous specimens in the great gardens of Tregothnan, Trelissick and Trewithen) the register describes a noteworthy Ash pollard of significant girth near a footpath south of Carnon Downs. I found myself mentally sizing up the described champions and thinking has someone been out to Penrose near Helston to measure the exceptionally tall Irish yews, or towering Trachycarpus fortunei? Would these palms then beat the ones at Trebah?

Great, too, to see Tresco Abbey Gardens is listed as having over 61 champions … well they are part of the ‘Fortunate Isles’ so not a complete surprise.  In fact, there is a good showing for Cornwall throughout.

We should recognise the significant contribution of the author Owen Johnson, the registrar of the Tree Register where online updates appear monthly at www.treeregister.org, as you will appreciate this listing cannot remain static, Having met Owen a few years ago, I know his knowledge of this subject area is staggeringly comprehensive, even though I felt disappointed that the garden I was then managing did not have the champion Magnolia cambellii that I secretly hoped it had!

Will I use this as my guide to the biggest and best trees in Britain? It’s already in my car which suggests that I will end up chasing down champions. In fact, coming clean, recently my work took me to Pembrokeshire and I did look up a champion (tallest at 39 metres) Japanese Red Cedar Cryptomeria japonica at Colby Woodland Garden and, yes, it was worth it: go and see for yourself and become a new age ‘tree twitcher’ like me.

Ian Wright , National Trust Garden Consultant and Plant Health Specialist