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The holly and the ivy

The ancient Christmas folk tune has a special meaning for tree recorders looking out for pollard hollies and ancient ivy.

Places such as the New Forest in Hampshire, a medieval Royal Hunting Forest, or the Stiperstones in Shropshire, are rich in ancient pollard hollies. These trees were cut either in winter or in summer, as fodder to store for the winter, as food for the deer – the high status, large herbivore of choice for the King to hunt.

Ivy too was a valuable winter food and has medicinal properties that are used today in the treatment of farmed stock. Holly wood was also prized by the cloth industry for loom shuttles as the wood becomes smoother and more efficient as it is used.

Holly and the ivy have always been taken indoors during the winter celebrations in the old belief that it would help the occupants to survive difficult conditions just like the hardy holly and the ivy. And of course the colours of the holly and ivy, green and red, are traditionally associated with Christmas.

Ancient ivy and hollies are a really important feature of the historic landscape – all records give us a sense of place and understanding of the past. They are however easily overlooked in surveys – so do keep your eyes peeled when out and about working off any Christmas extras.