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Ancient tree is celebrated in art at Westonbirt Arboretum

A sculpture celebrating one of Britain’s oldest trees – the historic 2000 Year Old Lime - is being created at the Forestry Commission’s National Arboretum at Westonbirt.

2000 Year Old Lime sculpture at Westonbirt Arboretum - sketch by artist Richard HarrisRenowned artist and sculptor Richard Harris will create the installation from stems recently cut as part of the lime’s management process, called coppicing.

Coppicing is the practice of cutting a tree back to its stumps periodically to allow healthy stems to re-grow, whilst keeping the original tree alive.

The sculpture will incorporate hundreds of stems cut from the 2000 Year Old Lime in November 2012, some over 10 metres in height. The sculpture will create what looks like one large tree - reflecting the size many visitors assume the ancient tree to be.

The piece of art will remain at the site of the lime whilst the stems re-grow over the coming years. 

It will help tell the story of the 2000 Year Old Lime and celebrate the place coppicing has in the history of woodlands, providing a bold, visual link between the old, original tree and the new life that will spring forth as a result of the coppicing.

About the artist

Richard Harris has been making human scale environmental sculpture since 1977. He first came to prominence as a result of work as the first resident sculptor in Grizedale Forest and has since worked in Europe and beyond, including Australia and Japan.

In his most recent project, ‘Jurassic Stones’ he worked with a group of boulders unearthed during the building of a new road for the Olympics in Weymouth.

Though Harris’ materials are principally natural ones; wood, stone and what he finds in the land, some sculptures have included polished steel, which skilfully echo the surrounding configurations and result in a keenly intelligent ambiguity.

His work has strong connections to the architecture and lines of the natural and human landscape, creating places connected to the wider landscape, for people to move through, over, or to stop a while.

Harris sometimes works on a very large scale with nature, but the close interaction of people is central to most of his sculpture. Whether in a relatively intimate context such as at ‘Meeting Place ‘ at the Welsh assembly Senedd building in Cardiff, or with ‘Walking with the Sea’, a vast lyrical reorganisation of the foreshore and its hinterland at the Millennium Coastal Park, Llanelli – people are the animators.

Commenting on his idea behind the sculpture, Harris said:

“I feel privileged to have the opportunity to work with the coppiced stems of this precious ancient tree.

“On coming across this small leafed lime for the first time I was struck by the sheer bulk of material on the ground following the coppicing process. I plan to work with this great physical mass to give a real sense of the age and scale of the tree.

“The sculpture will re-configure the cut wood into an equivalent vision of a tree of a similar age; giving visitors an element of what they expect from a 2000 year old tree.”

A history of coppicing

2000 year old lime coppicing, traditional skillsHistorical records show traditional coppicing methods have been used in Westonbirt Arboretum’s Silk Wood since at least the 13th Century.

Coppicing encourages healthy stems to re-grow and keeps the original tree alive.

Experts agreed in the 1990s that the size of the lime clump and its pattern of growth meant the tree could be between 1000 to 2000 years old.

This lime would have originally been coppiced by those who lived in and worked in Silk Wood. Local people would have used traditional woodland skills to make a living; cutting lime, hazel and oak for everything from building materials to rope and tools.

Coppicing is not only good for the tree, it also benefits wildlife; particularly woodland flora as regular opening of the canopy allows sunlight to reach the woodland floor.