How a love of trees has inspired me - Rothbury's new tree warden

If trees could talk, I am sure that this notable sycamore could tell some fascinating tales. It would tell of the ‘The Magician of the North’: the industrialist, civil engineer, arms manufacturer and inventor.

By Katie Scott
Sunday, 13th June 2021, 1:38 pm
Updated Sunday, 13th June 2021, 1:49 pm
A landmark sycamore tree at Rothbury. Picture by Katie Scott.
A landmark sycamore tree at Rothbury. Picture by Katie Scott.

The man who, in 1863, at the age of 53, decided to build an astonishing country home with magnificent grounds. This grand old tree might well recall with alarm, the blasting noise and immense dust that rose to the sky when humans began dynamiting the land to create the crag on which Lord Armstrong built his house; Cragside. Perhaps it wept for the death of William Burn, the quarryman, crushed to death during the excavations.

This superb sycamore, then aged about 30, might also recount Lady Armstrong’s part in the design and construction of the gardens and landscape, and I am sure must have rejoiced at the planting of seven million trees! Many of these would grow much taller than our glorious sycamore. One of them is itself famous, as it is the tallest Scots Pine in Britain – this giant can see far over our sycamore’s crown; the last time it was measured it reached over 40m high. Our sycamore is a mere 25m tall.

However, if our stunning sycamore tree could talk, it may well choose to recall some different stories. Looking towards Knocklaw, it would have watched with interest Rothbury Football club (founded in 1876) at Armstrong Park, in the 1940s. It must have watched with interest, the fire fighters watering the turf. Later, I am sure it would have been cheering on Bobby Charlton when he played here for Northumberland County Juniors. And the time Chris Waddle played for the visiting team, Belford. RFC Armstrong Park surely must be one of the most scenic football pitches ever.

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Firemen watering in the new turf at the Football pitch - circa 1950s - with the sycamore tree in the background.

My husband John and I moved to Rothbury in 2014. One of the reasons we chose to come here is the incredible beauty of the place – and the abundance of trees.

As a great tree lover, I began to research the local trees, I discovered the Tree Council’s ‘Tree Warden Scheme’, which had recently celebrated its 30-year anniversary. Accessing their map to find out where the nearest tree wardens to me were based, I could not believe it. York! Nothing nearer than that? I queried why Northumberland County Council was not part of this fantastic scheme? This was August last year. After a lot of nagging and dialogue with NCC, I am delighted to report that now Rothbury is the first community in Northumberland to be part of this wonderful programme.

So, what do tree wardens do? Recently we have been removing plastic waste from woodland by removing obsolete tree guards.

Tree wardens plant, protect and promote local trees. No training or experience in tree management is needed – just a love of trees and a few hours to spare.

Tree wardens, among other things:

Organise local tree planting days;

Prune, water and give vital aftercare to local trees after planting;

Rejuvenate local woodlands and hedges in need of management;

Go into schools to talk to young people about the value of trees.

I am delighted to report that once the scheme is well established in Rothbury, NCC plan to roll it out in many other areas of Northumberland.

In autumn, the Rothbury tree warden group are hoping to be clearing scrubland and planting native cherry and silver birch trees at Pinfold in Rothbury. We will be looking for other appropriate spaces to plant for the Queen’s Green Canopy Jubilee events, also.

A website is being developed which will feature Rothbury’s ancient, veteran, heritage, champion, and notable trees. A tree trail is going to be made to showcase these important trees, including the sycamore on Armstrong Park.

The Tree Warden Scheme fits well within NCC’s Action Plan to combat climate change. NCC are working with local communities to create a network of Community Climate Champions whose role is to engage with their communities. Rothbury’s Champion, it was easy to recruit many other Coquetdale folk who are determined to do all we can to help. Rothbury Climate Action Group is a diverse bunch of people with a great deal of knowledge, skills, and passion between us. We are working in smaller groups on different projects. Two small examples; the RCAG Transport Group are developing a physical and digital map/fold out leaflet that can be used to plan journeys by foot or cycle. It will also include bus information. This resource will be freely available to residents and visitors, and we hope it will encourage less reliance on car use. The Living Environment Group is working to provide a community space to share all things plant, garden and allotment related.

Lord and Lady Armstrong are buried in Haw Hill graveyard, Rothbury. They are watched over by a remarkable Lime Tree. If this tree could talk, I am sure it would be pointing out that, although the Armstrong’s wealth came mostly from creating the means of war and destruction; their legacy should surely be in their tree planting and environmentalist projects. Lord Armstrong not only advocated water and solar power as substitutes for fossil fuels, but he also actually invented ingenious ways of making these ideas realities. If you would like to know more about the tree project, or the tree warden scheme, contact me at [email protected]