Over the last year I have had the privilege of working with a group of volunteers from Bedale and District U3A who took part in a Shared Learning Project with a local landmark – the Thorp Perrow Arboretum in North Yorkshire – recording the details of around 140 trees in their ancient tree collection.
Bedale is a very small Market Town in the North Yorkshire Dales. The main industries here are agriculture and tourism. I had been looking for a suitable subject for an SLP for some time when I drove past Thorp Perrow the Christmas before last, I looked at the trees and thought about their history.
Trees have been part of the thorp Perrow Estate since medieval times. There was significant planting in the 16th and 17th centuries when the woods came under coppice management and again in the 1840’s and 50’s when many rare trees were imported. The Arboretum itself was not created until 1931. Today Thorp Perrow is a privately owned, thriving arboretum a place of growing interest in the area.
After Christmas I called at Thorp Perrow where I met Faith Douglas the Curator who was absolutely delighted when I asked about possible research projects our U3A might help with. Faith explained that Thorp Perrow holds five National Plant collections , Fraxinus (Ash), Laburnum, Tillia (Lime), Juglans (Walnut), Cotinus (Smoke bush), which are held by the NCCPG (National Council for the Preservation of Plants and Gardens). The collections are designed to conserve, grow, propagate and document a plant group and hold in trust for the future which Thorp Perrow does. However as curator she had always wanted to have more information in the archives but she did not have the resources to achieve this without voluntary help.
I was able to recruit a team of interested volunteers and we met with Faith who explained that what she wanted was an in depth look at the collections, measurements of specimens, with details of each, health profiles from VTA’s (visual tree assessments) and photographs. She issued us with a list of the tress we had to work on (over 140 trees) gave us maps of Thorp Perrow and arranged for us to have free tea or coffee whenever we needed it, and we did need it.
We now knew what we had to do, we had to find out how to do it. We were lucky to have in our midst a knowledgeable and experienced horticulturist who showed us how to take the measurements, that was fun. After a bit of trial and error we agreed on a suitable recording form and made one person responsible for the observations on each of the five different genus although we would help one another as much as possible because it was easier to work in two’s or three’s. One of the group who was more skilled in IT than the rest of us volunteered to put our work on a data base, she also set up a cloud storage facility for us which we had to learn to use. We did, eventually. We were ready to go we had a busy year ahead with a new set of observations to make each season.
Although we worked in small groups or sometimes individually I felt it was important to meet regularly each month as a group where we could discuss and share our problems and possible solutions. We all researched and gave a talk on the particular genus we were working on. Our horticulturist taught us about damage, disease, fungi and classification of plants and our IT expert helped us with cloud storage. The meetings were always lively and interesting. The weather could be a problem, we could not work in the rain and it was sometimes so cold we lost the feeling in our fingers and had to come inside to warm our hands around a hot cuppa to get them working again. The year flew by we just managed to complete our observations in time and hand them in to our collator who then had a busy time getting them onto our data base.
Faith was absolutely delighted she said, “The work and time that Beryl and her team have put in has been amazing and is valued by us all at Thorp Perrow. I would like to thank everyone involved for all their hard work and time put in to help out on such an important project for the future. I hope that in doing so the team have not only had the chance to get outdoors and enjoy the wonder of trees and the Arboretum in general , but also that they have learnt something from this project and found it interesting.
We certainly did it was a very rewarding experience. The team of Beryl Pemberton, Paul Bainbridge, Angela Kingsbury, Angela Godlee, Margaret Tiplady, Alan Godlee, and Avis Pelly got together again to give a presentation of their work at the AGM in April. The completed work will be stored at Thorp Perrow.