Tree Trail aims to highlight village’s unique species

By Toby Leigh in Local People

The unique elephant oaks of Stoke Gabriel are now part of a village tree trail that involves a centuries-old landscape that was once painted by the likes of JWM Turner.

Trees along the trail, such as a tulip tree, a tree of heaven and a 1,500-year-old yew, are so old that they featured in artists’ work painted some 300 years ago.

The trail, which takes people on a 2.5km route through woodland and along the banks of the River Dart at Stoke Gabriel, has been put together by Totnes tree warden Pip Howard. The aim is to encourage people to recognise the uniqueness of many of the trees in their landscape, which have only just been identified.

Already youngsters from the village primary school are joining in the project by collecting acorns from the remarkable sessile oaks, or elephant oaks, which are of international importance. Instead of putting down roots on the rocky foreshore of the Dart, they grow feet to balance themselves on the rocks.

Among the unique trees around the village are English elms, survivors of the Dutch elm disease outbreak that killed off 25 million trees in the UK during the 1960s and 1970s.

”When you look closely at an area, there are rarities that have been hidden in our hedgerows for a long time and we’ve ignored them,” said Mr Ho­ward. “We have found English elms growing around there that aren’t even supposed to exist.”

The Stoke Gabriel Tree Trail has grown out of a wider project to encourage people to identify and protect trees growing in their local community.

Some 2,000 tree trail leaflets outlining the route and the trees that can be found along the way have been printed and distributed through the village shop in Stoke Gabriel and River Dart Gallery. The leaflet has already been distributed to some 500 or 600 people since it came out at the beginning of June, according to Mr Howard.

The trail takes people past the oaks, an ancient yew tree, a wayfaring tree, which is supposed to bring good fortune to travellers, a giant redwood, a wild service tree and a tree of heaven used in silk production as the silk moth feed on it.

The trail leaflet also reveals that Stoke Gabriel was once the stop-off point for many of the great artists during the 18th century, including JWM Turner who used to hire boats to paint scenes between Stoke Gabriel and Totnes.

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