The Major Oak In Nottingham
by Janine Pounder
The Major Oak
In Nottingham, we don’t just have tales of ethical outlaws, but deep in the heart of Sherwood Forest sits the Major Oak, the oldest and I dare say, the most famous tree in the UK. Steeped in legend, the notorious hiding place of Robin Hood is thought to be over 800 years old. Along with this feat, the Major Oak has also been credited as the largest tree in Britain weighing a staggering 23 tons; with a girth of 33 feet its branches expand 92 feet.
Also known as Quercus Robur, an English or pedunculate oak, its species nurtures the greatest biodiversity of insects than any other plant in Britain, and certainly has an impressive mass.
Originally named the ‘Cockpen Tree’, it was used to hold game birds for cock fighting under the branches. It was renamed in 1790 by Major Hayman Rook, a local antiquarian. Rook wrote a book cataloguing all the oak trees of Sherwood. The tree was titled ‘The Major’s Oak’ before its evolution to its recent name of ‘The Major Oak’.
Whether or not Robin Hood did live inside the trunk will always be an area of debate, but one certainty is that the Major Oak is naturally hollowed by fungi which has slowly eaten away at the bark. Since 1908, conservation measures have been enforced to preserve what has been voted ‘Britain’s favourite tree’ by the National Tree Council. Because of its gargantuan structure the tree has to be supported by wooden beams.
Sherwood Forest is thought to have begun its life some 10,000 years ago at the end of the last Ice Age, and despite much of the forest being felled during the medieval period, much of it has been preserved, giving visitors an insight into what England would have looked like before its landscape was altered by farming. Alongside its award-winning tenant, Sherwood Forest has recently been named a National Nature Reserve by English Nature, an organisation dedicated to conservation and the enhancement of biodiversity.
The forest houses over 1,000 ancient oaks and, being home to rare beetles, bats, fungi and birds, is recognised as an area of scientific interest. This year, the Olympic torch passed through Sherwood and visited the Major Oak as part of its 8,000 mile relay through England. The interest the tree generated in the national media drives home the historical and cultural significance of green spaces, and sends a clear message of how important environmental preservation is to our communities.
When asked to name examples of cultural or historical significance, most people tend to think of man-made structures such as the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., the Eiffel Tower in Paris, or Big Ben in London.
However, the natural world can provide us with a richer insight into history than any structure created of brick and mortar. A hub of conservation and education, the Major Oak and its surrounding forest are just one of many locations around the world that are important to preserve not just for the environment, but our respective heritage.
I have images of the Major Oak, which have been taken by photographer Breixo Marino. He has granted me permission to use his images. Thanks