Trees for paddocks

As you may have read in the last couple of years, there is now new research that highlights Sycamore trees (Acer pseudoplatanus) as the cause of Atypical Myopathy, a mysterious and often fatal illness of grazing horses. The emergence and increasing occurrence of this illness has resulted in many sycamores being removed, and sadly a significant number of horse deaths in the UK. People are quite rightly now sceptical about planting trees in paddocks and the potential dangers that this may cause.

Being someone who has been into horses all my life, and indeed knows trees, it was a surprise to me when they were highlighted as being so dangerous and it is this which does mean you do need to exercise some caution when deciding what to plant in paddocks near grazing horses.

So, here is a little more information for you, to help you make some suitable species choices for your paddocks:

In most cases for paddocks, people are looking to provide some shade for the horses with the trees, and as such, given its robust nature, previously I would have recommended Ash, a hardy native tree that seem compatible with planting in paddocks. The emergence of Ash die back (Chalara), which has reduced Ash numbers in the UK has meant Ash is now off the menu, as in order to limit the spread of the disease the government has prevented the movement of Ash so are unable to move and sell them anymore.

Further to Ash Sycamore would always have been a good choice for speed of growth, hardiness and shape, however Atypical Myopathy has removed this option from the list too!

So, we look harder….. There is some research that identifies other members of the Acer genus which are safe to plant;

Acer campestre (Field Maple), which is found in the hedgerow and Acer platanaoides (Norway Maple) are both useful options for paddocks and do not contain the harmful Hypoglycin A. If you would like more information, this link highlights this research in detail: The summary on Page 1 – most significantly the section entitled “Conclusion and clinical importance”.

With the above in mind, in addition to Acer campestre and Acer platanoides (and their cultivars), the following are worth considering:


Populus tremula (Trembling Aspen) – Poplars cope with wind, waterlogged ground, and are fast growing and fairly spreading. They can produce a whitish fluffy seed in the spring, but I have not known this to cause problems and I do have friends that have them in their paddocks.

Populus alba (White Poplar) – Similar to the above with attributes, however this tree has a silvery white underleaf.


Alnus glutinosa (Common Alder) – this is a fast growing, water loving tree that will tolerate exposed conditions. It works very well in the wet but has a more pyramidal shape than the Poplar so perhaps is not so wide from a shade point of view, that said they do not produce any seeds or anything that would cause trouble. It will also perform well on “normal”, more well drained ground.


Salix alba (White Willow) – Willow love water, so are useful in wet areas, they will become a wide and spreading tree that you can be easily pruned and managed. The bark of Willow has some medicinal qualities, so horses do seem to quite like eating it, which should not cause the tree too much damage, so long as it is the branches rather than the main stem. You may need to keep the horses off of the bark, as if they strip the bark of these the trees will struggle.

Salix alba Tristis (Weeping Willow) – More spreading, will weep fully to the ground, which might not be so appropriate from a shade point of view, so will depend upon where you would like to plant them.

Slower growing trees that will be the right shape for shade eventually (and be large)

Fagus sylvatica (Common Beech) These are a slow growing native tree that is large and spreading at maturity. This tree can reach over 20m in both height and width. It is likely to be a component of most native hedging (maintained to be smaller). Best planted on free draining, lighter soils than clay. If you have clay, and would like a tree with these qualities,

Carpinus betulus (Hornbeam) is the one to go for, see below. Carpinus betulus (Hornbeam) Similar in description to the above Beech, will form a large, spreading tree at maturity. This tree can reach over 20m in both height and width. It is likely to be a component of most native hedging (maintained to be smaller). Thrives on clay soils, if your soil is lighter, please opt for Beech (above).

Maples mentioned in report/link above

Acer campestre (Field Maple) Often found in hedgerow, this tree will form a Medium size tree that will tolerate most conditions, although will not like to sit on very wet ground.

Acer platanoides (Norway Maple) Comes in a variety of colours, is fairly tough and forms a larger and broad crowned tree, will not like to sit on very wet ground.

This species list is not exhaustive, and should you wish for more options, discuss further or book a site consultation, please do not hesitate in contacting myself or a member of our team.


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Always trees!

Sometimes you just want to get away for a break with the family but work always follows you with trees!

Walking back to our room last night I was hit a glancing blow on the back of my shoulder by a coconut. It started its descent from over 20 feet up and if it had smacked me on the head it would have been a different story!

So I did a freebie assessment on them today and advised the hotel to harvest the crop as soon as possible after seeing that’s what left to fall is numerous, huge and overhanging a pedestrian path.

What are the chances? A coconut to fall on a tree grower from England?!!


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Biosecurity update

We formalised our strict biosecurity policy six years ago after it become very apparent that imported trees were responsible for several new pests and diseases in the UK, primarily Oak Processionary Moth and Ash Die Back. As far as we know we are the only tree nursery of our type that doesn’t trade stock direct from Europe for resale and immediate despatch into the UK landscape.

Much of our initial starter stock is home grown, raised for us as one year seedlings. These trees come with audit trails of providence and have never been outside of the UK. We also collect seed ourselves to grow on, please see the following link to a recent blog on how and why we do this. We grow these on as one year seedlings into 5lt pots in our triple span polytunnel and then plant them into our field unit the following autumn to grow onto the finished sizes associated with our production.

This is fine for our native range of trees that originate from seed but much of our range also includes budded/grafted trees such as clonal variations of Crab Apple and Cherry as well as other highly ornamental non-native trees such as Ginkgo, Liquidambar and Paulownia. To have these available for the UK market we have to import starter stock from European nurseries that we have known and dealt with for over twenty years. The stock is inspected in the summer before importation and checked for vitality and quality. It is then revisited and sample tagged in the Autumn prior to delivery when it is registered with DEFRA who then inspect at our nursery. The trees are then inspected again by DEFRA over the next growing season to check all of our trees are free of pest and disease. To back this up we also engage Bartlett’s Tree Experts to vitality test our stock through electrolyte leakage , chlorophyll content and leaf florescence.

We do not release any of our new production trees until September 1st each year even though they are rooted and ready for despatch before this time. This gives DEFRA time to complete their inspection cycle. None of these practices are mandatory but instead they are self imposed by us to ensure a bio-secure stock. We also risk assess our range and decide to stop certain lines where the risk of importing a problem is too high. In this regard we do not stock Olive, Bay Laurels or Cork Oak. We have taken a significant financial hit imposing these practices as our competitors continue to trade stock without pause.

Importing trees for immediate resale is a massive problem and we have been lobbying hard to try and change this practice which inevitably leads to importation of new pests and diseases into the UK. This is the industry norm and in our view has to change! I have attached our biosecurity policy and please also refer to another blog, this time highlighting the new threat of Xylella fastidiosa: Are plants safe to import?


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Which British native tree is often overlooked?

January and February have got to be the dullest of horticultural months! Not a lot to get excited about apart from the promise of the Spring.

I walked a local park to me on the weekend and saw a tree that is often forgotten as one of our prettiest natives, Sorbus torminalis the Wild Service Tree. I think one of the main reasons it is underdone is that it’s a devil to grow and transplant as a young tree in a nursery. It grows with a coarse carroty root system with very little fibrous root so reacts very poorly to containerization or transplanting. We found this out several years ago when we lost a beautiful crop from the field when we lifted them bare root for container production. We now take them root balled from the field and at a smaller size with far more success. Once we have captured the root system and established it within one of our Light Pots they become as reliable as any other of our trees.

Another reason why availability of this tree is so sparse is because a batch grows as such random rates. Some put on four feet of growth in one growing season with a non-branched leader going up like a rocket whilst others grow just a few inches. It you want uniformity this is not the tree for you but for leaf shape, flower and autumn colour it has so much to offer. We have pretty much sold out of these for this season and the next medium size crop won’t be available until autumn 2019. We will have smaller ones grown from seed available in 5lt pots for this autumn at about one metre tall.

If you want a medium sized Sorbus torminalis our advice is to get your name on one early. They are rare to see but worth the wait!

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Exciting development at Barcham!!

                                               BARCHAM PLANS FOR ARBORETUM

Barcham Trees, the Cambridgeshire nursery which has provided more than a million instant-impact trees for the urban environment in Britain, has been given the go-ahead by East Cambridgeshire District Council Planning Committee for the development of an arboretum, lake, visitor centre, restaurant and shopping area on part of its 300-acre site adjacent to the A142 between Ely and Soham. This unique and exciting development will create up to 40 new jobs.

The company, which is the largest container tree nursery in Europe, had support from a range of interests, including East Cambridgeshire’s tourism office and Soham Town Council. A report by planning officers stated there are no directly comparable visitor attractions in the area and that such a facility could only be beneficial to the local and tourist economy.

The focus of the 17-acre development will be a 12-acre arboretum, which Barcham’s managing director Mike Glover believes will fulfil several roles. “It will be aesthetically pleasing, educational, practical and a showcase for both our trade and private customers. We are the first major tree nursery to see such a facility as part of its remit, and our knowledgeable staff will be on hand to share their expertise with visitors. We see this as a natural extension of what the nursery does, which already includes the education of tree-care professionals and involvement with setting arboricultural industry standards”, he says.

The site will also include a lake, visitor centre, restaurant, conference centre, plant centre, shopping area and 150 formal car parking spaces, plus overflow parking. The nursery’s arboricultural director and chairman of the Arboricultural Association Keith Sacre emphasises the development will demonstrate best practice from its beginning through to completion and beyond. “More people than ever now appreciate the huge benefits trees provide for human health and the environment in general, and we are determined the arboretum will be a beacon of sustainability”, he comments.

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What price for biosecurity?

The tree and plant industry is waking up to the threat biosecurity has on our countryside and cities. The following video explains principles that should be adhered to combat this threat, principals we have already in place and followed for a number of years. Barcham Trees is the only nursery of its type with a strict biosecurity policy in place and this video, with interviews from leading figures within the industry, urges others to catch up.

Please click HERE to watch

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Acer platanoides Pacific Sunset

There have been some lovely autumn colours to view this season and a fairly new tree to our range didn’t disappoint. Acer platanoides Pacific Sunset looks like straightforward Norway Maple in the summer months but in the autumn its lustrous green leaves turn a mix of gold, yellow and even red. This tough tree thrives on most soils and is great for large gardens, parkland or for avenues. There are loads of clones for Acer platanoides, some with red summer leaves, some flushing red before turning green, some variegated and some golden. They are all very robust but in our opinion Acer platanoides Pacific Sunset is the pick of them for autumn colour.

When picking trees for your garden think of the timing of their display to allow for season long interest. Cornus mas for flower in February/March; Flowering Cherries in April/May with the Flowering Crab Apples and Magnolias soon to follow; Crataegus Paul Scarlet (thorn) in late May; Koelreuteria flower for summer flower; Prunus subhirtella Autumnalis Rosea for autumn flower; Betula utilis Jacquemontii for sustained year round back interest and Acer platanoides Pacific Sunset along with Liquidambar Worplesdon for autumn colour. If you play it right and have a garden large enough, you can get continuous interest with trees for the entire year!

To find out what trees are best for your soil and conditions within your garden feel free to phone us of e mail us, we would be please to advise!


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How much space do I need for a tree?

It is a common problem to see trees failing in positions with too little soil volume to accommodate them. Our local supermarket in Ely demonstrates only too well that trees chiselled into planting pits within hard areas are never going to thrive. These hornbeam were planted into positions where they could access only a cubic metre of soil and look at the result! This scheme probably looked great on an architect’s drawing board but practically these trees were destined to fail.

Trees that have the ability to get big such as oak, lime, hornbeam etc need about 30 cubic metres of rooting capacity to fulfil their potential. You very rarely see trees planted with this in mind in urban areas. Try not to entomb your newly planted tree in a hard area of paving or driveway, but rather link it to green areas such as lawn or bordering land to give the tree the soil volume it needs to thrive.

For those of you where this is not an option, all is not lost! Pick trees that are small in ultimate size, such as Hibiscus Resi or Photinia Red Robin as these need much lower soil volumes to support them. When thinking on where to put a tree focus on underground soil volume rather than above ground look. The latter is a given if the roots are empowered. If in doubt on what to choose, give us a call, we would be happy to advise.


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When is acorn collection season?

I had a text alert come through last week to say that my favourite English Oak , Quercus robur, had enough acorns to harvest this year. This particular oak we have named the Fotheringhay Oak from where it has grown undisturbed for the best part of over 600 years. This means it was probably around when Richard the Third was born at the nearby Fotheringhay Castle in 1452 and certainly around when Mary Queen of Scots was beheaded at the same location in 1587.

I visit this magnificent tree every September in the hope that I can harvest acorns to secure a crop of providence seed from a very historic tree. It is tucked away, about a half mile walk from where I have to abandon my car, and most times I leave empty handed but this year I was rewarded by a bumper crop. The last time I picked from this tree was in 2011 and I have never picked ripe acorns as early as August before. I am very grateful to Stephen Long who both introduced me to this tree in the first place and keeps tabs on it for me to alert me of any acorn potential. This year he laid on a telescopic machine which took us all the way into the tree’s canopy to get the juicy acorns that my step ladder won’t reach.

Most Oaks are imported these days and this is why we now have Oak Processionary Moth in the Country, a pest that can give rise to symptoms resembling a full on asthmatic attack if the caterpillars hairs are inhaled. Imported trees like this made it into the Olympic Village in London and lax biosecurity is now costing the UK tax payer millions of pounds in a forlorn effort to firefight pest and disease outbreaks.

At Barcham we take a different approach. By majoring on a tree like the Fotheringhay Oak we are banking on the providence of a tree that has thrived for centuries and come through droughts, downpours, hurricanes and intense heat and cold. This tree has a history of winning despite the odds and we ride on the back of its success. It is in tune with the UK environment and its offspring stand an exceptionally good chance of being equipped with the same coding.

We will line the acorns out in their seedbed today after yesterday’s harvest. They germinate in the spring and we leave them a growing season before potting them up to grow on in 5 litre Light Pots for another year. From there we plant them in the field and harvest them for sale within our medium sized range about 4 years after that. This takes longer that buying a finished Oak from Holland as most nurseries do but at least you know the providence of our stock and that they do not pose a risk to the UK environment.



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