The Miskin Oak

In 1982, Brandon Rhys William, writing a brief history of Miskin Manor and the cricket club, mentions an old oak on the southern edge of the cricket field. It is to this wonderful arboreal veteran that this article refers.

The tree is of great antiquity, and an accurate estimation of its age is virtually impossible, but it is certainly many hundreds of years old. It is certainly possible that this gnarled old gentleman was a young tree at the time of the Norman Conquest and it will have been a major landscape feature for well over 500 years. Was it part of the primeval woodlands, which once cloaked the valleys? Or is it a remnant of a wood pasture, where Miskin peasants would have reared pigs on pannage from the annual acom crop? In a thousand years, how many changes of agricultural land use has this tree witnessed and survived into its present, resplendent old age. There is ‘good’ evidence that the tree was (at some long distance time) pollarded, that is cut-off 3 to 4 metres from ground level and allowed to regenerate its shoots, above the grazing height of livestock. This ‘cyclical’ management may have taken place for hundreds of years. Every twenty years, or so, the sturdy new branches would have been harvested for stakes, spars, sawn timber etc. Its life as an active pollard must have ceased several hundred years ago, and the tree has long since retired from active service.

Now, as the tree is starting to senesce, the biodiversity and range of flora and fauna within its canopy is exceptional. Mosses and lichens abound. Fungi, notably artist fungi, beef stake fungi, puffs balls, and the sinisterly named ‘dead man’s fingers’, are features of the old tree. The cracks and crevices of the upper branches offer nesting sites for birds and roosting places for bats. The tree supports and entire ‘eco-system’ of its own.

In August, 1964. the USA Forest Service felled a 5000-year-old Bristlecone Pine Tree in Nevada. The intention was to count its growth rings and establish its precise age. But parts of the tree core were hollow and the only conclusion was that the tree, which was probably the oldest living individual in the world, was no more. I wonder what lessons the USA Forest Service learnt, In an ever changing world, the Miskin Oak, like Llandaff Cathedral, is a direct and tangible link to the past. Long may cricket at Miskin be played in the backdrop of this magnificent tree ..

GwynJames Arboriculturol Officer RCT County Borough Council Feb 2002

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