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With the English climate predicted to become more like that in the Mediterranean, an artist’s impression has been created to illustrate how autumn at Westonbirt, The National Arboretum might look in 2050.
Over the next 40 years, changing conditions are likely to have a number of knock-on effects on trees and woodlands as, potentially, England experiences hotter and drier summers and milder and wetter winters.
An area at the Gloucestershire arboretum known as the 2050 Glade has been set aside to help identify alternative tree species which its manager, the Forestry Commission, hopes will provide good autumn colour in the future. By focussing on the species which have recently been planted or will be added in the Glade, and looking at them at maturity, an artist’s impression has been created to demonstrate how Westonbirt’s landscape could look in autumn 2050.
Westonbirt is renowned for its autumn colour providers such as the Japanese maples (Acer palmatum) in Acer Glade and Maple Loop. However, because Acers do not thrive in drought they might be affected by future dry, warm summers.
The 2050 Glade is being used to experiment with species from all over the world to see how they fare over the next few decades, with England’s average temperatures expected to rise by up to four degrees Celsius.
By selecting trees from milder climates, specialists hope to identify suitable substitutes which are able to withstand extreme weather and help to protect the long-term future of Westonbirt’s world-famous autumn colour, and possibly that of our woodlands.
Species such as the Turkish sweetgum, Liquidambar orientalis, and elm relative Zelkova serrata from Japan, which is currently growing in the 2050 Glade, could provide spectacular autumn displays in years to come.
Simon Toomer, arboretum director, said:
“The 2050 Glade is an attractive area for visitors to learn about the issues surrounding the selection and growing of trees in a changing climate.
“A proportion of the plants grown in the area will push the boundaries of hardiness, testing those which might grow better in the future and become more prominent in Westonbirt’s autumnal scene.
“Our artist’s impression shows some of the species which we hope will mature well, giving an indication of what autumn here could look like in future.
“We intend to maintain the distinctive and colourful landscape of Westonbirt in autumn for future generations, using this area as a test bed for trees with a variety of colour and form.
“Those which succeed with us here could go on to form part of the treescape in the wider environment, such as in urban settings and other gardens.”
Twenty-five initial specimens have been planted in the 2050 Glade, including a field maple (Acer campestre) collected as seed in Turkey, other more exotic Acer species, and the Kamila tree (Mallotus japonicus).
Plants will continue to be added to the glade over the next few years. Specimens will be collected from countries thought to have conditions similar to Britain's predicted future climate, for example New Zealand and parts of Japan, Australia, California and South America as well as Mediterranean countries.
NOTES TO EDITOR:
- Westonbirt, The National Arboretum is managed by the Forestry Commission and is renowned worldwide for its tree and shrub collection. Home to five national collections, the arboretum covers 243 hectares (600 acres) and contains 16,000 labelled specimens. Visitor numbers are 350,000 a year, with a membership of more than 28,000. Westonbirt Arboretum was established in the 1850s by wealthy landowner Robert Holford, and later developed by his son George Holford. Unlike many arboreta, Westonbirt is laid out according to aesthetic appeal rather than scientific or geographical criteria. www.forestry.gov.uk/westonbirt.
- The Forestry Commission is the government department responsible for protecting, expanding and promoting the sustainable management of woods and forests in England and Scotland and increasing their value to society and the environment. www.forestry.gov.uk.
- The Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum (FOWA), formed in 1985, support the National Arboretum by promoting public understanding of the crucial role of trees to the environment and society. It is funded by membership receipts from more than 28,000 members, other fund-raising, and the use of the Great Oak Hall for events and activities. FOWA is a registered charity (no. 293190). www.fowa.org.uk