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Hunting returns to medieval Neroche Forest

Ancient Tree Hunt's Jill Butler joins recorders and ancient tree experts in the Forest of Neroche for a day's tree hunting in Piddle Wood.

Although the Forest of Neroche* near Taunton is not recorded in the Domesday Book it is thought to have been a royal forest before the Norman conquest, being closely associated with Ina, King of Wessex, who had a royal palace at South Petherton. Forests were then areas of common land which were subject to Forest Law where the King held exclusive privileges including the rights of hunting the deer (venery) and the rights over all the timber and other forest produce (vert). Unlike the medieval Kings who hunted the wild animals, a gathering took place recently to hunt the ‘vert’, specifically the wild ancient trees scattered through Piddle Wood.

Recording at Neroche forest
Recording an ancient tree on Staple Lawns with Castle Neroche hill in the distance.

Ancient (pollarded) oaks in Piddle Wood and the neighbouring fields around Staple Lawns indicate the former areas of wood pasture which lay adjacent to the deer park.

The group who met reads a bit like the roll call of some of the leading lights of ancient tree activity. The system of recording the wood was presented by Gavin Saunders, The Neroche Project Manager supported by Jonathan Spencer, Head of Policy at the Forestry Commission because Piddle Wood is leased by them.

Recording at Neroche
Gavin and Jonathan addressing the tree hunters. Photo: Edward Parker

Also present however were Eddie Parker – internationally famous photographer of ancient trees. His work includes THE HERITAGE TREES OF BRITAIN AND NORTHERN IRELAND.

Neroche forest
Eddie Parker with Gavin Saunders

And with a gathering like that, Ted Green is unlikely to be far away from the action.

Ted Green and recorders at Neroche
Ted Green addressing the tree hunters

With the plan of action sorted, the group scattered to start collecting tree record data. Trees recorded consisted mainly of pedunculate oak with a few ash.

Old pollard at Neroche
Just one of the many tens of ancient and veteran trees to be recorded in this area. This one is an ancient pollard and although sadly one half is now dead, it is still functioning as super habitat for decaying wood specialists and cavity users.

Added intrigue to the event was provided by Gordon Field who is a tree diviner. Gordon uses his affinity with the natural world via his very strong dowsing skills, concentrating on exploring their natural energies and their well-being. He encourages visitors to visit trees, increasing both the natural energies of the tree and the participants. It was fascinating to watch Gordon use the divining rod to ask the trees questions about their age and what they liked or disliked about their environment. He has even used this skill in tree pruning – asking the tree where to cut.

Divining at Neroche
Gordon divining the tree’s reaction to the ivy growing on it.

At the end of the day the Neroche Conservation Volunteers and visitors had recorded tens of trees and discussed haloing round some of them to prevent them suffocating from competition. Something Gordon supported through his chats with the trees.

*The Neroche landscape partnership scheme aims to protect and celebrate the heritage of the northern Blackdown Hills, for quiet enjoyment, education and training in countryside skills, using the public forest estate as a base. The project is currently developing new initiatives in the Forest and working with new partners in the wider AONB. Read more about Neroche at

The Ancient Tree Hunt is a living database of ancient and special trees. It was launched in 2004 as a joint venture with the Tree Register of the British Isles and the Ancient Tree Forum, and led by The Woodland Trust.

- Data is used to support biodiversity planning
- The database helps tree protection initiatives
- We support programmes of seed collection from ancient trees.
- More than 110,000 hand-picked trees have so far been recorded in the UK.

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