A trip to Lincolnshire reveals a diverse and historic treescape.

LINCOLNSHIRE gained the title of Bomber County during the Second World War because of having 27 Bomber Command stations built and located there. Those that know the county or have visited it will know the reason for so many bases was both its proximity to the North Sea, to carry out raids deep into Germany, as well as the remarkable flatness of the terrain. Wolds Top, at 168 metres above sea level, is the highest point of Lincolnshire and some parts of the Fens are actually below sea level.

My wife and I visited in October 2021 because I was going to take a taxi ride in an iconic Lancaster bomber. It was too good an opportunity to miss to not only do this but also to find out more about the trees of Lincolnshire. Several are of real interest and with history and stories attached to them, with Newton’s apple tree at Woolsthorpe Manor being the most famous. 

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While this individual tree is of note, so too is Lincolnshire Wolds, which is designated an area of outstanding natural beauty (AONB). While the woodland cover of the Lincolnshire Wolds is less than 5 per cent, with much of it planted during the 18th and 19th centuries, it adds so much to the landscape of the area and it is so important to the wildlife there.

Forestry Journal: Storms caused one of the larger limbs of the Bowthorpe Oak to be brought down at the time of our visit in October 2021. Back then, it was still being discussed as to what was the best way to deal with this for the overall good of the treeStorms caused one of the larger limbs of the Bowthorpe Oak to be brought down at the time of our visit in October 2021. Back then, it was still being discussed as to what was the best way to deal with this for the overall good of the tree

The major tree species plantings are of beech, but ash, sycamore and pine can be found in the area.

Our base was the Petwood Hotel at Woodhall Spa, which was home during the Second World War to the famous 617 ‘Dambuster’ squadron led by Wing Commander Guy Gibson VC. 617 Squadron was famous for ‘Operation Chastise’, the raids on the Ruhr dams utilising the ‘Bouncing Bomb’ designed by Barnes Wallis. Later in the war, using other new bomb technologies, they sank the German battleship Tirpitz and carried out raids on infrastructure and military targets.

The hotel has 30 acres of landscaped gardens and a wide variety of tree species, including two trees of note. The first can be found as you walk around the gardens and out towards a wonderful looking temple-like structure, which affords stunning views, back to the hotel itself and the gardens. This is a European Beech, in this case Fagus Sylvatica f. purpurea, which for height, at 28 m, is the county champion of this species for Lincolnshire. It also has a quite impressive girth of 2.75 m.

The other tree, which, coincidentally, was visible from our hotel room, was a Coastal Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga Menziesii subsp. Glauca). Like the European Beech, this tree also is, for its height, the county champion of that species for Lincolnshire, although slightly smaller at 21 m in height and 2.6 m in girth. These two trees may be the only champions at the Petwood Hotel but there are many other worthy specimens on view as well.

Forestry Journal: The ‘new’ apple tree, at Woolsthorpe Manor, which was raised from a pip seed taken into space, by astronaut Tim Peake, as part of the ‘Pips in Space’ project.The ‘new’ apple tree, at Woolsthorpe Manor, which was raised from a pip seed taken into space, by astronaut Tim Peake, as part of the ‘Pips in Space’ project.

Woodhall Spa also has some trees of note and some beautiful tree–lined avenues. Sadly, from a resident’s point of view, in recent years one of these avenues, of mature lime trees, has suffered through either removal or the severe pollarding of the trees to facilitate a new housing development. It is quite noticeable just where this has been carried out as you enter the town. That said, in other parts there are still some wonderful looking trees alongside the roads.

Pinewoods, which is a 7.6-hectare wood, is almost hidden in Woodhall Spa. It is sandwiched in between two roads, one of which contains the main shops and restaurants of the village, and it is a lovely broadleaf woodland. As well as containing some trees of note, it is also home to the Kinema in the Woods, an old-fashioned cinema, which specialises in offering the public the chance to see films in a retro setting and way.
Pinewoods has a number of sycamore, chestnut and hornbeam trees within it and also a Pendunculate Oak (Quercus robur), which can be seen towering above buildings on the periphery of the woods, as it is 28 m high and has a girth of 3.5 m. 

The wood also contains a European holly (Ilex aquifolium), which, while much smaller at around 17 m, is multi-stemmed, making it quite distinctive to look at. This wood during the Second World War was also used to store ammunition and equipment.
Perhaps a more famous wood at Woodhall Spa is Ostler’s Plantation which has been owned by the Forestry Commission since the end of the Second World War. While today it is managed for its timber crop and for recreational and wildlife purposes, back then it was home to 617 Squadron. Many of the paths the visitors walk on today are actually the concrete remains of the airfield aprons and dispersal bays.

Forestry Journal: The gardens of Belton House contain a number of exotic tree plantings.The gardens of Belton House contain a number of exotic tree plantings.

Some buildings do remain and a local archery group practise and run organised events from one such store building that used to house incendiary bombs! Others have become homes to bat colonies, while adders are a very common sight on the plantation. Trees grown are of mixed conifer species but the Forestry Commission also carries out experimental tree species plantings here. In the past, this has included Monkey Puzzle trees. 

The Lincolnshire Bomber Command Memorial Park at Chadwick Hill, near Lincoln, is a fitting memorial to those who supported and served with Bomber Command during the Second World War. On the site is the Chadwick Centre that houses interactive displays and exhibitions, as well as education and resource suites and visitor facilities. There is a stunning 31 m-high Spire memorial made of weathering steel surrounded by walls of metal carrying the names of the near 58,000 men and women who died supporting Bomber Command.

There are also two Peace Gardens; the Lincolnshire Peace Garden that has 27 lime trees, each one representing a Bomber Command station. The nearby International Garden features horticultural plantings to represent the five continents and 62 nations involved with Bomber Command. Around the site, some thinnings took place of the trees which grew there to open up the views but many mature beech, oak, ash and elm remain.

A tree survey carried out to support the development of the site referred to the significance of the tree species already on it. It noted that the mature beech trees were some of those significant trees and that they would need protection and also that their roots would not withstand serious root disturbance. This was taken into account in the designing of access routes to the site. The survey, though, did accept that some of the ash and elm would require management and that damaged trees could be thinned to provide a clearer overall site vista.

Forestry Journal: The Bowthorpe oak has the largest girth of any English Oak in the country and could be 1000 years old.The Bowthorpe oak has the largest girth of any English Oak in the country and could be 1000 years old.

Lincolnshire, like many counties, has a number of stately homes and properties, which have trees of note, interest, and some with links to history. Belton House, near Grantham, has extensive parklands some of which date to the 17th century. The Eastern Avenue, leading to the house, is planted with Horse Chestnut and lime trees. There is also a plantation of oaks and several trees that warrant mention including a sugar maple, an alder, weeping beech and a common lime. The gardens around the house also have a number of exotic trees, which were planted in the 19th century.

Meanwhile, Gunby Hall, near Spilsby in the Lincolnshire Wolds, has a stunning 200-year-old cedar of Lebanon (Cedrus libani). This tree is thought by many to be one of the finest examples of this tree type in the country. It is believed to have been planted around 1810, perhaps in commemoration of a friend of the planter Peregrine Langton-Massingberd, who had been killed at the Battle of Waterloo. 

There is no doubt about the connection of an apple tree that grows at Woolsthorpe Manor near Grantham to Sir Isaac Newton. 

Newton was born there in 1642 and returned in his 20s to carry out a number of his famous experiments. It is said that he observed an apple falling from a tree that grew in the manor’s orchard and this inspired him to come up with his Law of Universal Gravity.

The manor is under the care of the National Trust and they look after this apple tree, which is a ‘Flower of Kent’ traditional variety. This bears a cooking apple fruit of a green and reddish flush colouring. The tree is believed to be 400 years old and has been associated with Newton for more than two centuries. The tree blew down in 1820 and that could have spelt the end of the story but it remained rooted and started to regrow from its base.

Forestry Journal: Information board, which explains the history of the 500-year-old Grantham Oak.Information board, which explains the history of the 500-year-old Grantham Oak.

Today, visitors see a very healthy tree that continues to have blossom and the fruit of numerous apples during the season. A small wicker fence has been put in place to help protect the tree’s root system. The Tree Council recognises this tree as being one of the 50 Great British Trees. Nearby another apple tree has a similar protective wicker fence to help it become established and to allow it to flourish alongside its famous neighbour.

This apple tree has been grown from the pips of Newton’s apple tree. However, the difference with this one and seven others that have been planted across the country is that they have been grown from the pip seeds that have been taken into space. British astronaut Tim Peake took the seeds with him when he went to the International Space Station in 2015. The seeds spent six months in space as part of what was called a ‘Pips in Space’ project, being brought back to earth in 2016. They were then cultivated at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew before being planted at various locations around the country.

There are number of notable and ancient oaks to be found in Lincolnshire, three of which are worthy of investigation. One is right on the border with Cambridgeshire at Burghley House in Stamford. It is a hollow oak, which is thought to be 800 years old. This tree is in good company with many other ancient and veteran trees to be found in the park. Capability Brown planted many more in the 18th century when he worked on the landscape design at Burghley.

Brown firmly believed that the older trees, which pre-dated his plantings and work, needed to be nurtured and protected. The oak is a massive 9 m in girth. It is now partially uprooted and has developed a lean to one side. One of its large limbs almost touches the ground. Despite this, the tree continues to grow and is in a healthy state.
Also at Burghley is an ancient sweet chestnut, which is thought to be around 500 years old. It is likely that this tree was one of the tree plantings either just before or around the time of the building of the house and therefore has associations with Sir William Cecil, the 1st Baron Burghley. It too is hollow and has through the process of layering seen ‘new’ trees form in and around it where the ‘mother’ tree branches have touched the ground and after a period rooted themselves.

Forestry Journal: European beech (Fagus sylvatica f. Purpurea), in the centre of the picture, at the Petwood Hotel, is the county champion for height for this species.European beech (Fagus sylvatica f. Purpurea), in the centre of the picture, at the Petwood Hotel, is the county champion for height for this species.

The other two oaks could not be any further removed from the grandeur of a stately home site. One, the Grantham Oak, grows quite serenely in the middle of a housing estate, and the Bowthorpe Oak grows on a farm at Bourne. The Grantham oak, or the Oak of Belton Lane as it is sometimes referred to, stands on a busy road right next to a pedestrian crossing. As it is 500 years old, it was obviously growing there long before the houses were built that now surround it.

This is an English oak (Quercus robur), which has a girth of over 7 m and could have been growing here at the time of the War of the Roses. The housing around it was only constructed in the 20th century and the land prior to that would have been used for agricultural purposes. However, during WWII as the noticeboard next to the tree explains, it would have had a wartime factory for company.

The tree is highly treasured by the local community, so much so that when in 2018 a utility company, who were carrying out work in the area, stored their heavy equipment and work materials under the tree and next to its massive trunk, this was reported to the authorities who immediately got them moved. The tree was roped off and then in 2019 a specialist matting was laid at the tree’s outer edge to allow vehicles to drive around the tree without causing impact or damage to its roots.

The Bowthorpe Oak, yet another English oak (Quercus robur), albeit this one is hollow, has the largest girth of any English oak in the UK at nearly 13 m. It could be 1,000 years old and therefore it might be the oldest. It too is one of the 50 Great Trees of Britain and is well worth the small entrance fee charged by the farmer, on whose land it grows, to visit it.

Forestry Journal: his coastal Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii Subsp. Glauca), in the grounds at the Petwood Hotel, is also a county champion for height.his coastal Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii Subsp. Glauca), in the grounds at the Petwood Hotel, is also a county champion for height.

Because of its hollow nature, past owners are said to have hosted dinner parties within its trunk for their guests. It is also said that the children who attended the local chapel had their annual tea within this hollow trunk as a special treat for them. The tree is supported by three chains that have been installed over the years. It does, however, have a good supply of acorns each year, and is reported to be in a healthy state. Sadly, at the time of our visit, one of its larger limbs had been blown down and we were told that there was a debate going on about how best to deal with this setback.

It is to be hoped that this tree along with all the others are able to continue to grow and prosper as they have done for hundreds of years before. Lincolnshire may be lacking in the overall numbers of trees compared to other parts of the country, but in the short time we spent there we found more than enough trees and woodlands of interest to visit and admire.