Campaign to increase number of rare Black Poplar trees to Huntingdonshire

Left to right: Volunteer Carlie Campbell and Trustees Bridget Flanagan and Mark Ellis at West Meadow.

Left to right: Volunteer Carlie Campbell and Trustees Bridget Flanagan and Mark Ellis at the riverbank in West Meadow opposite Brampton Mill. - Credit: GREAT OUSE VALLEY TRUST

The number of Black Poplar trees in Huntingdonshire received a significant boost this month. Local landowner and farmer Alf Peacock invited the Great Ouse Valley Trust to plant 12 young trees along the riverbank in West Meadow opposite Brampton Mill.

The Black Poplar, Populus nigra, sometimes called the Water Poplar, is one of Britain’s rarest native trees. The trees like boggy places, ditches and wet meadows and as many of these habitats have been drained and lost to modern agricultural practices, their numbers have declined. In 2006 a national survey counted around only 7,000 Black Poplars, and in Huntingdonshire just 40 mature trees are recorded.

Black Poplars are magnificent trees in maturity, reaching a height of about 30 metres (100 feet) with thick fissured trunks covered in big lumpy burrs. At this time of year their outer branches take on an amber glow in the spring sunshine and this will be followed by wonderful crimson catkins on the male trees. They have glossy green triangular-shaped leaves, and these are tremulous like all poplars.

Two hundred years ago the Black Poplar was a common feature of lowland meadows. The trees can be seen in Constable’s paintings of the Stour Valley and Flatford Mill – a landscape with many similarities to that of ours in the Ouse Valley.

Black Poplars almost never reproduce naturally, and this is another reason for their decline. Male and female trees must be in close proximity for seeds to be produced. The seeds are viable for little more than two weeks and must fall on bare wet ground to germinate. And as female trees are especially rare and account for fewer than 10 per cent of the national total.


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Last year,  a splendid old Black Poplar on Clark’s Island in Godmanchester was toppled by high winds. Its broken skeleton lay on the meadow to become a fun climbing feature for childre.

However, the good news is that many more Black Poplars are returning to the Great Ouse Valley. In the last few years there have been successful plantings at The Pightle Millennium Green in Eaton Socon, Hinchingbrooke Country Park and Hemingford Grey.

The Great Ouse Valley Trust

The Great Ouse Valley Trust - Credit: GREAT OUSE VALLEY TRUST

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INFO: The Great Ouse Valley Trust promotes the conservation, restoration and enjoyment of the landscape, wildlife and heritage of the Great Ouse Valley and environs in the county of Cambridgeshire. Visit: www.greatousevalleytrust.org.uk.

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