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Britain's ancient Pontfadog oak felled by windstorm

The Pontfadog Oak, which had recently been covered in snow, was felled by high winds overnight A 1,200-year-old tree reputed to be the oldest and one of the largest oaks in the UK has been toppled by strong winds. It is understood the Pontfadog Oak, which has been growing near Chirk in Wrexham since the year 802, was felled by gusts of around 60mph overnight on Wednesday.

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It stood for more than 1,000 years and once served as a rallying point for a Welsh army that defeated England's King Henry II in 1157. But now one of the oldest oak trees in Europe has died, brought down in a wind storm.

The big oak dated back to at least 802 and some say it was planted when Romans still lived in Britain. It had been a fixture on a farm near Pontfadog, a village in northern Wales, and regularly drew visitors from around the world. It came crashing down early Thursday morning during heavy gusts of wind.

"It's almost like we've lost a family member really," said Dianne Coakley-Williams who lives on the farm with her family. "It has been here so long it's just a shame."

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A steady stream of villagers stopped by the farm after word spread that the tree had been knocked over. Many wept and others shared memories of playing around the tree as children.

The grand oak's demise has prompted calls for the Welsh and British governments to do more to protect ancient trees. The Pontfadog oak had been in rough shape for years and its massive trunk, measuring 12 metres across, had been largely hollowed out by decay. The government had put a Tree Preservation Order on it, meaning it could not be cut down, but many people felt that wasn't enough.

There had been repeated requests by villagers and the Ancient Tree Forum, an organization that promotes conservation of old trees, for the Welsh Assembly to take steps to preserve the oak by erecting a fence, trimming the top and checking to ensure the soil was providing enough stability. More than 5,000 people had also signed a petition calling for the Welsh Assembly to preserve hundreds of other old trees.

"The point that we are making here in Wales and across the U.K., is that [the Pontfadog oak's death] raises the question – are we looking after our ancient trees properly?" said Rory Francis of the Woodland Trust, a British charity that works to protect trees and forests. He added that it likely would have cost about $9,000 for measures to protect the tree and help it last longer.

"There should have been some support available from the government," said Mr. Francis. "There aren't many trees like that. They are really special and we don't think that a question of a thousand pounds here or there should be a problem in providing the best care for trees like this."

Mr. Francis lives in the area and he visited the farm on Thursday to commiserate with locals. "It was a sad day. These things happen, but I think it is important that lessons are learned."

Welsh government officials have told Mr. Francis that they are receptive to the idea of protecting old trees and they plan to bring in experts to come up with a plan. The Ancient Tree Forum has come up with a list of 100,000 very old trees in Britain and it hopes that by creating a record more can be done to protect them.

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In Pontfadog there are already discussions about building some kind of memorial or even re-erecting the oak in some fashion. Ms. Coakley-Williams isn't sure what to do. "We still haven't moved the tree yet. It's still actually on part of the house. We are waiting for our insurance people to come along and help us move the tree," she said. Her preference is for some of wood to be used to make benches or a monument for the village to put on display.

Whatever happens, she said her farm will never be the same. "It looks quite strange to go out of the house and it's not standing there watching over us any more."

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About the Author
European Correspondent

Paul Waldie has been an award-winning journalist with The Globe and Mail for more than 10 years. He has won three National Newspaper Awards for business coverage and been nominated for a Michener Award for meritorious public service journalism. He has also won a Sports Media Canada award for sports writing and authored a best-selling biography of the McCain family. More

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