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The "Oak Change" (UK)

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Old Sunday 31st May 2009, 20:13   #1
davercox
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The "Oak Change" (UK)

Excuse my ignorance, I know nothing about trees.

Oliver Rackham (in "Woodlands", Collins New Naturalist series, 2006) says :
"Hitherto oaks had grown more or less readily from seed within existing woods. With few exceptions, this ceased in the twentieth century. Oak now grows freely from the acorn almost anywhere - heathland, farmland, railway land - except within existing woods."

A couple of weeks ago, at Nagshead RSPB (Forest of Dean) I couldn't help noticing the ground under the 200-year-old oaks was covered with small oak saplings, tens of thousands of them at least.

Have they changed back ?
Anyone else finding oaks regenerating in oak woods ?

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Old Sunday 31st May 2009, 20:24   #2
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Does he elaborate at all?

Acorns are relatively heavy as seeds and can only grow away from the parent tree via creatures such as Jays, Squirrels, etc., whereas those that drop below the parent tree should sprout if they land in leaf-litter. Presumably, with the reduction in woodland management during the 20th century, there were less trees being felled which would have made room for any of those seedlings to take their place.

I've noticed large numbers of seedlings under beech and ash trees in my local wood, but if none of the larger trees are felled or blown over to let light into the woodland floor, then I suppose they're doomed to just fade away.
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Old Sunday 31st May 2009, 21:05   #3
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I was once told that the problem is with caterpillars. If saplings are growing under ancient oaks' then the caterpillars in the parent trees could just spin a thread and drop down it onto the saplings and demolish the tender new growth. The saplings stand a much better chance if they have been moved by Jays etc and are not growing under the parent trees. Has there been a change to the status of the moths or caterpillars?

Then again, this may all be an urban myth (or should that be moth?)
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Old Monday 1st June 2009, 13:31   #4
davercox
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Adey Baker View Post
Does he elaborate at all?
The whole paragraph (on p.68) :

"Next came the Oak Change. Hitherto oaks had grown more or less readily from seed within existing woods. With few exceptions, this ceased in the twentieth century. Oak now grows freely from the acorn almost anywhere - heathland, farmland, railway land - except within existing woods. It is disconcerting that a common tree should violate the Principle of Uniformity - that its present behaviour should furnish an interpretation of the past - and there has been much conjecture as to the cause. The most plausible reason is the introduction from America of oak mildew (Microsphoera alphitoides), a fungus disease first noticed in 1908 that rapidly spread to every deciduous oak in Europe. It has little effect on oaks growing in the open - but it may be death to an oakling in a wood struggling against shade. In effect, it seems to make oak a more light-demanding tree."

A references he gives is :
Watt, A.S. (1919). On the causes of failure of natural regeneration in British oakwoods. Journal of Ecology 7: 147-156.

I guess now, re-reading the above, the myriad tiny oaklings at Nagshead are not evidence for a difference: what matters is how many of them survive to "adult" age.
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