In one of our neighbour's fields sits a beautiful, ancient Oak Tree. We often speculate about how old it must be, and were delighted when they gave us permission to take a closer look, and see if we could estimate it's age.
The oak tree has been a national symbol of strength and survival for centuries, and has been chosen as the national tree by many countries, including England and Wales. It has been revered since ancient times, and was sacred to the Greek god Zeus, The Norse god Thor, the Roman god Jupiter and the Celtic god Dagda among others.
Oak wood is hard and dense, and is very resistant to insect and fungal attack because of it's high tannin content.. It has a long history of being used as a building material for houses, ships and furniture. Other uses include making barrels and charcoal, and smoking cheeses and hams. It's bark was traditionally used in the leather tanning process.
In prehistoric times, people made flour from acorns, and oak leaves, bark and acorns have a history of being used to treat ailments like diarrhoea, inflammation and kidney stones. There is also a tradition of feeding acorns to pigs across Europe. They provide a rich food source for British wildlife, and oak trees support more wildlife forms than any other native tree, including more than 280 kinds of insect.
We wanted to measure the Oak's girth, in the hope that we could use it to estimate it's age. It turns out that's not as easy as you might think when a tree is in a hedge line. After a couple of adjustments, we finally agreed that the tree's girth was 550cm which is about 18 feet. We used this very handy guide Estimating the age of a tree from it's girth.
Presuming average growing conditions, we made a rough estimate that this tree is at least 350 years old, which takes it back to the reign of Charles II, and the time of the Great Fire of London and the Black Death! I suspect that this particular tree was here long before the field was enclosed with hedges, and a quick measure of some of the other trees growing in the hedge line suggested that they were more likely to be around 200 yrs old (having girths of around 4m).