Love and care for the ancient trees in Greenwich Park

This is the right way to look after England's ancient trees

In 1661, Louis XIV was King of France, Charles II was King of England, Australia had been ‘discovered’ but not colonised, the Qing Dynasty and Harvard University were new – and this Castanea sativa was planted. The ugly 20th century bitmac path cut across its roots has been troubling me for years. So please join me in toasting the Royal Parks for re-routing the path to respect the tree. Better still if they had ripped up the beastly bitmac and replaced it with flint gravel, but one can’t have all one’s dreams come true in one week. They will just have to move the path again in a ?200 years time. See the Woodland Trust’s Ancient Tree Forum and the Guardian’s photos of Ancient Trees.

30 thoughts on “Love and care for the ancient trees in Greenwich Park

    1. Tom Turner Post author

      I find ancient trees fascinating. Britain has a good number of them compared to many European countries (probably because there have not been too many invasions in the last 1000 years). The Temple Oak is thought to date from about the time of the Norman Conquest and the Yew Tree at Wilmington Churchyard is thought to have been planted at about the time the Romans left Britain. They are young by international standards – see list of the oldest trees in the world. It gives the Tisbury Yew Tree as the oldest tree in England – 4,000 years old.

    1. Tom Turner Post author

      In some respects all plants and animals are as old as life on earth: we all contain living tissue which has been alive since mitosis began.
      I like the idea of cities planting trees in very special positions where they are intended to live as long as possible. They could be called Thousand Year Trees. It would be great if a thousand cities took up the idea and due recording was put in place. Does Australia have any capital cities with a suitable position for a Thousand Year Tree?

  1. christine

    Every capital city has a Botanic Garden which could potentially host a Thousand Year Tree.
    [ ].

    However, it would be great to promote the idea more widely within the community to increase respect for long lived trees. The legal protection for significant trees varies across jurisdictions.

    1. Tom Turner Post author

      I think it would be better if the Thousand Year Trees were not in botanical gardens. It would make them into scientific speciments instead of demonstrating that trees should be visually and culturally integrated with the lives of communities. In fact I like the Indian system of having a Sacred Fig (Ficus religiosa) at a central point in a settlement. It confers a high level of regard and protection (sacredness) on the tree and secures its place as a symbol of continuity in a society.

  2. Christine

    Possibly the closest we have to a Thousand Year Tree, ie a tree that was recognized within a community as being significant culturally was the Tree of Knowledge in Barcarldine. [ ] However, the 200 year young tree which is important for its associations with the founding of the Labour Party, was poisoned, and a memorial built to replace it. [ ] and [ ] and [ ].

    1. Tom Turner Post author

      I am amazed by the story of and suppose it points to a weakness in the whole idea of Thousand Year Trees. They are sure to become symbols and those who dislike whatever is symbolised are going to attack them, as the World Trade Center was attacked. This is what happened to sacred trees in Germany (Donnar Oak and Irminsul and elsewhere too. I will try and think of a good location for a Thousand Year Tree in London but, as the above photo indicates, the present situation is that all ancient trees are highly valued and have statutory protection in conservation areas etc.

  3. Tom Turner Post author

    I do not think the evidence is strong but it looks to me as though Glastonbury was a pagan religious site before it was taken over by the Christians. This would give a tit-for-tat aspect to the wicked destruction of the Glastonbury Thorn

  4. Pingback: A new-to-become ancient tree was planted in Greenwich Park in 2011 | Garden Design And Landscape Architecture Blog –

    1. Tom Turner Post author

      Though understandable, I resent the long Christian campaign against other religions. Prince Charles is doing a good job with his dream of being the Defender of Faiths (rather than a mere Fidei Defensor , Défenseur de la Foi) but he is not carrying with him the church of which he is destined to become the Supreme Governor.

  5. Christine

    It seems axomatic the religions should not have campaigns against each other. I suppose that they do is a legacy of the idea of conversion by the sword rather than by conviction.

    There is some idea, which also exists in Buddhism, that all religions are not fundamentally spiritually benign. For example, the practice of human sacrifice while linked to religious ritual was practiced [ ] to appease blood thirsty gods [ ].

    Instances and images of christian martyrdom, no doubt, are just as absurd and visually horrific.

    It is desirable to think that these practices are in the past, but unfortuneately there are reports that suggest otherwise.
    [ ]

    So, the revival of religious practices from the past, or wholesale acceptance of the those in the present, needs to be treated with a great degree of caution. A friend has related a cannibal joke to me (one which someone whose family used to practice cannibalism in previous generations said to her explaining that ‘she would (have been) good to eat’.)

    In understanding different religions dialogue is always preferable to violence. What to do about religious violence?

    1. Tom Turner Post author

      For an ancient religion, Buddhism is surprisingly in tune with modern social mores.
      What to do about religious violence? I think the best plan is to reason with religious leaders. Too many of them are too backward-looking. They have to discover that, sooner or later, their faiths will suffer the fate of the Catholic Church in Ireland over the past decade, if they do not ‘pull their socks up’ and join the 21st century. I would like to hear the leaders of every faith campaigning for virtue and against violence. The Catholic church was far too quiet during the Second World War; the Mullahs have been far too quiet (on pacifism) during the period of modern Islamic revolutions; the Irish Catholic Church was far too quiet during the Troubles; the Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar was far too quiet on 9/11. The Christians should be far more Christian and far less imperial.

  6. Christine

    If what I understand about the Pope during world war II was true, he was a virtual prisoner in the Vatican. If he had spoken out he would have endangered many lives. Instead by maintaining a formal silence he was able to save many lives and protect many people who came to the Vatican city for refuge. I believe some of the priests of this period had characters not unlike the Scarlet Pimpernel. [ ]

    1. Tom Turner Post author

      Pope Pius XII should have remembered Christ’s choice, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer did. Wiki records that: “On 18 September 1942, Pius received a letter from Monsignor Montini (future Pope Paul VI), saying, “the massacres of the Jews reach frightening proportions and forms.”[156] Later that month, Myron Taylor, U.S. representative to the Vatican, warned Pius that the Vatican’s “moral prestige” was being injured by silence on European atrocities, a warning which was echoed simultaneously by representatives from the United Kingdom, Brazil, Uruguay, Belgium, and Poland.[166] The Cardinal Secretary of State replied that the rumors about genocide could not be verified.[167] In December 1942, when Tittman asked Cardinal Secretary of State Maglione if Pius would issue a proclamation similar to the Allied declaration “German Policy of Extermination of the Jewish Race”, Maglione replied that the Vatican was “unable to denounce publicly particular atrocities.”[168] Pius XII directly explained to Tittman that he could not name the Nazis without at the same time mentioning the Bolsheviks.[169] Pius XII also never publicly condemned the Nazi massacre of 1,800,000–1,900,000 mainly Catholic Polish gentiles (including 2,935 members of the Catholic Clergy),[170][171] nor did he ever publicly condemn the Soviet Union for the deaths of 1,000,000 mainly Catholic Polish gentile citizens including an untold number of clergy.”

  7. Christine

    The situation of Pope Pius XII and Dietrich Bonhoeffer were different in terms of their respective responsibilities. Bonhoeffer was an incredible person. This is a copy of an apostolic letter of the Pope to priests in 1939, the first year of his pontificate. (The original was in Italian):


    Apostolic Exhortation

    ASPERIS commotio


    Among the concerns addensatesi biting our soul for a war raging in vain by us and by all means deprecated, there is a very great one that comes from your plight, beloved priests and clerics, who by your peaceful spiritual ministries or studies you are now by necessity and led away suddenly in the middle of the military and war.

    Not used to the kind of life you lead now, here are suddenly brought to serve in the army barracks, hospitals, ambulances and even in the ranks of fighters, each acting as chaplains, others – and are the most – with offices generally very different from the ones you have for your vocation.

    We follow dapperttutto with attentive care, the military vicar or more chaplains, and their care, and prudent father, we assure the proper organization, the incessant activity, the enlightened initiatives. Their work, valuable in every way and full of sacrifices, proves highly effective in each country, as it inspired the most profound sense of duty. Remembering to you confirming our confidence, we intend to report them at the same time your gratitude and the spirit of willing obedience, which is a necessary factor of its effective functioning.

    In order that there should be some spiritual comfort you need, both for you and the exercise of your ministry, it is our intention to give all military vicar and chaplains or more nations or regions in which there exists a state of war or mobilization – without prejudice to the powers already granted ordinary – and extraordinary new power, a pledge that there are affectionate fatherly care with which we will follow in the anguish of the test.

    But the action that we assigned to the vicar or more chaplains shall not exempt ourselves from coming to you directly to open up our soul and in so extraordinary contingency urge you to look closely at the duties inherent in your new living conditions for carrying them out without reserves in the spirit of your own vocation.

    Even if you had changed the dress, should not change the spirit in you. This must go between the arms no less than the exercise of your priesthood. Who today can you find out your study habits and work, is the same heavenly Father who called the Altar. He called you – remember that! – Not to make you pure and simple ministers of religion (not only that the Catholic priesthood), but also for ministers of the Word in you, the propagators of the Gospel, the living representatives of his Christ, to bring all the knowledge, arouse the desire in all, to light all the love. It is your program of St. Paul, who boasted of not knowing how much and does not take much to people if not Christ, and Christ crucified. And he took with his life no less than by the word, in every place, at every moment, in private and in public, under the open sky as in chains: waves received from the same prison where many came to him and preached freely Kingdom of God, he could write to the Philippians: “Now I want you to know, brethren, how things avvenutemi have contributed most to the advancement of the Gospel” (1).

    Today God has allowed you to leave the ordinary occupations, you were put in contact with men of all education, of every costume, every culture and every faith, often alienated from God, ignorant of Jesus Christ and his Gospel, devoid of religious feeling, far from reminders of the soul and the things that concern for his eternal salvation. People whose often be repelled by you to receive the word and with it the saving grace of Jesus Our Savior, God leads you to be with you by sending them, making their companions of toil, hardships, dangers, the sacrifices of all kind.

    Know evaluate the passing hour. I will not decide the circumstances, which are due to your current conditions, from a purely human point of view, but be able to recognize in them the will, always good, the heavenly Father, who knows how to draw good from evil, and whether your want to make call to arms, despite the many ruins souls to salvation, reducing them through you in the ways of Christian faith and honesty. Everyone can benefit you in this new ministry, and who has more than priestly zeal is in hand, at every step, streets and open fitting occasions.

    But you especially – and we mean you personally – you have to be among the weapons the living apostle of Jesus Christ. It will be, even without words, if you will do honor to your vocation, first of all, with exemplary faithfulness to your new duties and with the most irreproachable conduct. What I said St. Paul to the Philippians to encourage them to do honor to their faith in the pay they lived in, so we repeat to you: “Let your conduct worthy of the gospel” (2).

    And we will add to him: “Everything you do and lamentations, without discussion, that ye may be blameless and sincere children of God without blemish in the midst of corrupt and perverse generation, among which shine as lights in the world” (3).

    You always shine forth in the minister of God And that if your character has to do with you men to duty, exemplary obedient to authority without offending the law of God and are ready to sacrifice, should not, however, can not in any way and for any reason , you have a loyal environment as frivolous, corrupt, reprehensible.

    Especially your moral behavior must be austere, uncompromising, no concessions, no weaknesses, so that reference and example. This austerity that is well associated with the gentleness of heart, for which you have to let you all for all to gain all to Jesus Christ, and is also perfectly suited to the austere discipline of the militia, this just the courage and bravery you you have to be teachers at every moment to affirm, with serene freedom and independence, your character or your priestly initiation to the priesthood.

    What if the spirit of the Gospel spirit of freedom and allows you to make you, as the Apostle, servants of all, despite being free from all, to earn more (4), the Apostle also there will often be necessary to call in accordance with your conduct of the healthful words, so full of wisdom: “Everything is permissible but not everything I gain, all I am allowed, but not everything is building up ‘(5).

    In this way you exercise healthy action on the environment, and will be introducing in the secret souls – conscious or not – more or less of that good seed which Jesus said that it is thrown to the ground, and grows without the Barbican mind you we Sower (6).

    You will have no consciousness of having betrayed your mission and you have given to Jesus Christ – your Divine Master – good testimony among the most diverse world that is given to conceive. For you, every class, every profession free or mechanical, every culture, every form of spirit will have heard once again, the sounds of the weapons the gospel message of redemption, and no sin will weigh on you to persuade your fellow d ‘weapons that do not respond in the disciples of Christ and guides in their life to teaching. You will have gained respect and sympathy to the Church, and personal friendships in your military service is done with dignity because of contracting, are also easy way for the conquest of souls, or achievements.

    Do not fall from the soul the warning given to the faithful by the Apostle, in the glorious times in which, through the suffering he prepared the triumph of the Church: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (7).

    You see, dear children, as well camp opens your zeal to the divine Providence in the very act that seems to get away from your sacred ministry or from the immediate preparation for it. It is a mission, which should enhance every sincere heart of a priest or Levite, and shall mitigate for him, if not canceled altogether, the sacrifices that the exceptional conditions of this gl’impongono. Moreover, there are sacrifices that fertilize fertilize the action as the teaching? It is not suffering, rather than working, which makes a good witness to the Truth? Add your own personal gain: we mean that of the spirit. What experiences of men and things you are able to achieve for your better conduct through the various vicissitudes of this thorny and your service!

    The experience will be exactly the one that will mature in virtue and apostolate for it. Nothing will lose your priesthood of his time for this, which seems nothing but a damaging brackets in your life: nothing, if you have wisdom and walk in God’s eyes, leaving his blessed hands, which, while leading you to rough roads – in the wilderness, rugged and arid – does lead to good and high.

    But walking in God’s eyes and not let his hand do you mean – you know – the cultivation of Christian piety, fervently, for which there is only because of keeping up the spirit and warm your heart with the desire of the Good. How this is possible even in the midst of the weapons, you can listen to it, outside of any other evidence, if evangelical piety of these examples have the same weapons that the world has with so many noble Christian figures and saints. In an environment not unlike you, they were able to live in God and God as they were dominated by this central idea, rooted in their hearts: the fulfillment of divine will in all their duties. See the will of the Lord always, in everything and everywhere, and help you in spite of the repugnance of nature, here is the effort that every day there is imposed, the short way, easier, safer than piety that is, in the midst of these dangers, the bulwark of your priestly vocation, as in the whole course of life must be the source feeder and fertilizing of your every action taken.

    But this divine order will usually be in you and vivid the memory, you need to – who can doubt it? – That the spirit of prayer, far from languishing in you for the prevention of new duties, more than ever to burn in your heart and this is assiduously fed not only by the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass you, the fervent participation in the canteen of the strong , from everything that the constant experience of the faithful, under the impulse of the Spirit of God, has shown highly effective in protecting from evil and to encourage the soul to virtue and perfection. There is hardly in the Christian life, especially the priest, a situation that may remove the possibility of recollection willing soul newspaper to fold in on itself in pious meditation, sincere investigation into the consciousness, in fervent worship at the feet of the Master which we serve and his tabernacle, as often deserts, is still waiting to shed the light of his word and to reinforce it with his grace.

    Eat, beloved children, the more intensely you can, this pity. If it takes you in the arduous test which the Lord wants you, this will be crossed by you with your spiritual advantage, and with plenty of fruit for the souls of the brothers, to which there is nothing that the minister of the Gospel should not be ready to write, working and suffering.

    You will, before the world, which today is watching with particular interest, did honor to the Catholic priesthood and the Church of which you carry so much weight of responsibility. You will have deserved well of the same home, with your example will have comforted the children in one hour so great for his fortunes, and cooperating effectively in the tranquility of their spirits, they have sustained the courage and increased productivity.

    Will bless you compete wives and mothers, that your love will be comforted in a thousand ways in the person of their loved ones. With his approval will reward your consciousness, for which you will feel, even in these circumstances, not decreased but rather the higher your priesthood in the spirit, in action, in sacrifice.

    And above all – premium transcending all human reward – you will feel in your heart, throbbing with humble joy, resonate with the emphasis almost infallible truth of praise in advance of your supreme leader, Jesus, the gospel promise: “Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will acknowledge before my Father which is in heaven “(8).

    In the firm hope that everything is made for you, we accompany you, dear children, with fathers’ wishes for your safety equipment, for your salvation from the dangers, for your spiritual prosperity. And while we ask God to shorten for you and all the other days of the test, and restored peace to the world, your return yourself to the quiet places of work or ministry of culture preparatory to it, we send you a heart like pledge of Our paternal benevolence, the comforting apostolic blessing.

    Given at Rome, at St. Peter, on December 8, feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the year 1939, the first of Our Pontificate.

    1. Tom Turner Post author

      The speech is well meant, even kindly, but it does not embody the ‘holy spirit’ of the early church fathers or the saints who led Tertullian (c. 160 – c. 220 AD) to observe that ‘the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church’. Pope Pius XII’s speech is bourgeois in the sense of placing material concerns above spiritual values and honour. This is an OK policy for most of us but not for the Bishop of the Holy See. The policy led, abeit indirectly, to priests becoming underpaid social workers instead of moral authorities.

    1. Tom Turner Post author

      It is not for me to judge, or to make suggestions, but the traditional Christian policy was to ‘go to the stake’ for matters of high principle and high import – as the author of Utopia did.

    1. Tom Turner Post author

      That is a very good analogy, but bone-chilling. Despite the fact that bringing church and state together is good for the arts, I think it much better to keep them apart. Luckily the world has few theocratic states left, but Iran is enough to remind us that they are a bad idea, leading to injustice and militarism. I am beginning to wonder if this discussion has strayed too far off topic. But maybe not: Greenwich Park and its chestnuts would not exist if Charles II had not had theocratic tendencies and my bones are also chilled by the reflection that many of the world’s best urban design projects have come about when church and state are aligned if not unified. But I still don’t think Popes should have temporal power.

  8. Christine

    Yes the separation of church and state is a good outcome of the reformation. [ ] Perhaps the question has arisen in history as a matter of finding the right balance between the spiritual and the temporal realms?

    Although I have no experience of a theocracy, my sense is I would only want to live in one where the ruler was benevolent. It would be interesting to research the relationship between good temporal and spiritual rulers and good art and urban projects!

    It does not seem beneficial for the state to run the church (as in China) nor for the church to run the state (as in Iran). At times the state running the church has seemed to have resulted in beneficial outcomes, ie. Holy Roman Empire and at times the church running the state seemed to be beneficial in outcome, ie. Tibet.

    However, the Dalai Lama, has himself chosen to separate the temporal power as head of state from the spiritual power as the head of religion. Although, in the Vatican State the Pope obviously retains both roles, he is ex officio head of state. Perhaps Lhasa should be given the same status as the Vatican city?

  9. Tom Turner Post author

    The Wiki article is interesting but, I think, does not give enough space to the Ancient period. In Egypt and, to a lesser extent, in Mesopotamia gods and kings were closely identified. The separation came partly from Christianity, which saw a Kingdom of Heaven in which God ruled, and partly from the animist/Celtic tradition, which identified gods with mountains, rivers, forests etc. The Indian religions also separated gods and kings – but in East Asia they came to be identified (probably through the influence of Buddhism).

  10. Christine

    It is not necessary to go to the Ancient period to find a situation where the king is given the status of a god. This is seems to be so in the Shinto religion. [ ]

    However, understanding Shinto, even though it is still followed today is quite difficult. For example in the Japanese text ‘Nihon Shoki’ (The Chronicles of Japan) the word shinto is only used in three sentences:

    1. The emperor [Yomei] believed in the teachings of Buddha and revered Shinto.
    2. The emperor [Kotoku] revered the teachings of Buddha but scorned Shinto. (He cut down the trees at Ikukunitama shrine.)
    3. The expression ‘as a kami would’ means to conform to Shinto. It also means in essence to possess oneself of Shinto.
    (source: ‘Shinto in the history of Japanese Religion’, Tashio, Gobbins & Gay in the Journal of Japanese Studies (1981).)

    1. Tom Turner Post author

      Yes, I think that in Japan, as in China, the emperors were Sons of Heaven from an early point in time. My impression is that there are significant overlaps between Chinese and Japanese history and that Japanese cultural historians lack enthusiasm for exploring these links. I was very interested to read, from your link, that the Japanese imperial family is giving archaeologists access to the imperial tombs which throw light on the origin of the imperial family. The Chinese also have unexcavated imperial tombs. So there must be a lot of eastern history waiting to be ‘uncovered’.

  11. Christine

    The history of the Kojiki (Record of ancient matters) suggests that understanding the links between Japanese and Chinese culture might not be as simple as it might at first seem. The adoption of Chinese characters to create a Japanese literary form in an otherwise oral culture is a good example. [ ]


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