The loss of a beloved oak tree in a Devon village is being mourned like a family bereavement.
Broad Oak has been a fixture in the Silverton area for centuries, potentially even before the 15th century. The tree’s impressive branches have provided a meeting place for villagers in the Devon community, offering shelter and tranquility. Its majestic presence has also been utilized by theater groups as a stage backdrop and as a source of solace for those seeking comfort. The local primary school even adopted its image as their emblem.
The loss of the great tree has caused both the young and old to grieve, as it fell on a peaceful day rather than during a storm. The village is currently figuring out how to handle the remains of the fallen oak that now covers the recreational area.
Many people expressed a sense of loss. Adrian Ryder shared, “It was a significant part of our childhoods, a familiar sight in the village, and a popular spot for children to gather.” He added, “But above all, it was a magnificent natural wonder that had been a part of the village for hundreds of years. It’s unfortunate that after around 700 years, it has come to an end – oh, the tales it could tell.”
At 12:30pm on January 25th, David Wright witnessed a tree falling. He stated that he was sitting and drinking coffee when he noticed movement out of the window. The oak tree was gradually tipping over, almost appearing surreal in its slow descent. Wright’s initial reaction was to check if anyone had been injured, so he went to the tree and called out before checking under the fallen parts to see if anyone was trapped. Fortunately, there were no injuries, but the incident caused damage to fences, paths, and turf.
The situation could have been even more tragic if Jan Ross, who resides nearest to the tree, had not chosen to go to the local store to buy her newspaper (specifically, the Guardian) on the day it collapsed.
Ross stated that upon leaving the store, he was notified by a neighbor that the oak tree had fallen. He explained that a significant branch of the tree had collapsed onto the end of his garden, causing damage to his durable wooden fence. Just ten minutes prior, Ross had been working in his garden near the fence and checking on the growth of his spring bulbs. He expressed gratitude for not being in the path of the falling tree.
She stated, “I have been consistently reading for 50 years and it may have played a role in saving my life. While it is sad, even trees that are 700-800 years old eventually come to the end of their lifespan and we must make the most of what they provide us.”
Over 50 community members gathered at the community hall on Monday evening to discuss their next steps. They were informed that a crane and workers would be arriving in the near future to ensure the safety of the tree.
The villagers were informed that tree experts were interested in studying the remnants of the tree to determine its age and assess its response to the current climate crisis. They discussed strategies for preserving the valuable and intricate ecosystems that the tree supported.
Individuals desired to ensure a lasting tribute for future generations. Sections of the tree’s stem could potentially be showcased. Certain individuals suggested leaving a substantial branch for children to utilize for play, and inquired about the possibility of transforming larger pieces of the wood into communal furnishings and smaller pieces into coasters or beer mats.
The community expressed eagerness for increased tree planting, along with a dedication to protecting wildlife and the environment. There was a suggestion to hold an annual tree planting event on the anniversary of the fall. Some individuals even pondered the possibility of a new tree sprouting from the fallen tree’s remains. A plan is being considered to create a map of trees grown from acorns of Broad Oak.
Nikki Shaw posted images of the tree that may provide insight into its collapse and showcased its diverse ecosystem. One photo displays a broken branch that fell in the opposite direction of the tree’s trunk and seems to be decayed.
She stated that the tree may have become unbalanced. Another observation was the presence of five different types of fungi on a single branch, such as oak crust and witches’ butter. A third finding was a knopper gall which develops around acorns when a small wasp injects her eggs into the acorn buds. This could potentially explain the scarcity of its offspring in recent years, as acorns have been difficult to come by since the 1980s.
Not only current inhabitants are affected by the tragedy. James Carroll, a former resident of the town, expressed, “There are quite a few ex-residents I have been in contact with from different parts of the country who are also disturbed. Some were even crying. For many, it feels like losing a family member. Growing up in Silverton, it was a significant part of our childhood and symbolized stability and permanence.”
According to Anthony Richards, the leader of the Common Players professional theater company, the group has presented three adaptations of Robin Hood at the oak tree over the last 30 years. The most recent production, titled “The Tuck Inn” and performed in 2001, featured a community feast. The cast is saddened by the end of this production, as it served as a source of inspiration for them.
Olivia Kennard, a resident of the village, shared a poetic tribute on the village’s Facebook page in honor of the magnificent tree: “The tree’s final moments were peaceful and graceful, without causing much commotion or harm. I pay my respects to you.”