Updated: Feb 23
The English Oak is the second most common tree in the UK, after Birch. Although common in the UK, we certainly shouldn’t take this beloved tree for granted. The Quercus Robur (or Common Oak), supports more life than any other native tree in the UK. It’s certainly no wonder that the English Oak is sacred to many gods and seen as a symbol of national strength.
Oak trees host hundreds of insects, birds and small mammals. Badgers, squirrels and deer are all pesky predators of the Oak tree’s acorns. Flower and leaf buds provide a trusty food source for caterpillars. And its not just the tree’s flowers and nuts that provide food for a whole array of other species.
The structure of an oak tree itself provides the perfect home for many wildlife wonders. Holes and crevices are ideal nesting spots for birds, while old woodpecker holes are prime roosting opportunities for many of the UK’s bat species.
As the soft leaves of the Oak tree break down, they form a leaf mould beneath the tree’s canopy which provides peak habitat for fungi and insects such as the stag beetle.
Just to add further praise to this divine tree species, it’s capable of synchronising with its fellow Oak tree team members to help fight for its future generations. Every few years, some tree species produce a large crop of fruits/ nuts. This is known as a mast year. Citizen science seems to predict that 2020 is a mast year for the English oak and I for one, have certainly noticed a lot of acorns around!
During mast years, the likes of badgers, Jays, and mice who all feed on the tree’s acorns, are treated to an abundance of food for stashing over the winter months, where food sources are usually scarce. Essentially, these mast years not only help to secure the success of oak trees for years to come, but also aid in regulating or boosting population numbers of the species that rely on them. The excess of acorns created in mast years, often mean that even the most insatiable acorn consumers leave some forgotten stashes behind… allowing a new generation of saplings a chance to grow.
The whole synchronicity of a mast year is a highly intelligent process. Oak trees in their wisdom, seem to know that the likes of the Jay, will take their acorns into the open for stashing. A forgotten buried acorn in the unshaded open is quite simply perfect for a young oak sapling to grow!
Although mast years tend to happen every 5 years, scientists still don’t quite know how these mast years are coordinated among the species, so for now we just have to trust in the all being power of these amazing trees!
While seemingly taking care of its own genetic continuation, the Oak tree like all species in this modern world, is vulnerable to threats of its own.
The Oak Processionary Moth, a non-native pest found in Surrey, Berkshire and London, can have devastating effects on the beautiful tree. OPM caterpillars, nest on oak trees and are covered in small hairs which cause health risks to humans. Signs of the OPM can include a succession of caterpillars on the trunk and their nests being present in oak trees. These nests are usually made of a white silken webbing that fades to a light brown.
Mating occurs in late summer, where after, females lay eggs. As they develop, these caterpillars descend lower down the tree and strip the leaves as they go, having a weakening effect on the Oak. During the summer months, these caterpillars retreat into nests and pupate, for this destructive cycle to begin again.
How can you help?
Be sure to report signs of disease on trees to help stop the spread!
Join a citizen science project such as Observatree, where volunteers are trained to spot pests and diseases to help manage outbreaks early.