Deep in Sherwood Forest lives a Mighty Oak. Called the Major Oak, it is 800 years old, hollow and has a waistline of 33 feet. Everyone knows the story of how Robin Hood hid inside from the Sheriff of Nottingham. Half a million visitors travel to see this mighty oak every year. Sherwood Forest now has a visitors centre, the big tree has been fenced off and its huge branches supported with metal struts. In Millennium year 2000 Rosie and I joined the multitude to pay our homage to the Major Oak. That year the Big Tree celebrated by enjoying a "Mast", a season of prolific acorn crop. Such a large oak would produce about 150,000 acorns.
The Major Oak is a Quercus robur or English oak. Since 1600 English Oaks have become crossed with foreign oak species imported by English explorers. There are now very few original English Oaks left. What could Rosie and I do to reverse this sad decline? We decided to break the law for the benefit of all. At midnight we walked in pitch dark into the middle of Sherwood Forest, listening to the owls hooting and strange noises nearby. We climbed the fence and by torchlight collected 500 acorns from beneath the Major Oak. Back in our room, we cleaned, dried then selected the best acorns. Next day we drove back to Broadstone with our treasure.
At home we invested our savings to buy hundreds of pots, large amounts of compost, many sawhorses and planks. Now, after 30 months of tender loving care, protection from the storms of winter and watering in the droughts of summer Rosie and I are the proud foster parents of 350 healthy little oak trees, spreading their arms naturally in 10 litre pots and crowding our tiny back garden on a hilltop in Broadstone. Meantime, I had created a website telling the story of the Major Oak in words and pictures going back to 1913. Those fortunate enough to be on the Internet can browse this site at:
What next? One day Rosie said "Look through this property newspaper to see if our friend's house is up for sale". I didn't find the house, but did find an advert for a 7 acre field to be auctioned soon, on the banks of the Dorset Stour 2 miles from our home. We went to the Auction, our field was for sale first, I made the first bid, no-one else bid, and I suddenly found myself the proud possessor of 7 acres of pasture and mature hawthorn hedges on the banks of the peaceful River Stour. In 1813 this area was called "Great Wood" but all the trees have now gone. And I knew what next. "Rosie, we are going to plant a New Sherwood Forest!". She just looked at me.
This March was an amazing month. It hardly rained at all, perfect weather for hedging. Rosie and I spent 300 hours, cutting back 500 yards of hawthorn and blackthorn hedge mixed with bramble, cutting ourselves to ribbons in the process and building 65 bonfires of cuttings. Now the ditches are exposed, a friend will bring his little JCB to dig out ditches that have not been touched for 200 years. Deer are our worst problem. To protect our precious Mini-Oak saplings from the predations of wild Roe deer will need 800 yards of deer fencing, using posts and pig-wire. We are applying for grants but most will have to come from my own pocket I fear. But when I think of the New Sherwood in Dorset, and the unique planting of 350 offspring of the mighty Major Oak, it all seems worthwhile. I hope you agree
PS: For quotation anoraks: David Everett 1769-1813. Lines written for a School Declamation:
You'd scarce expect one of my age
To speak in public on the stage;
And if I chance to fall below
Demosthenes or Cicero,
Don't view me with a critic's eye,
But pass my imperfections by.
Large streams from little fountains flow,
Tall oaks from little acorns grow.