Championed by Max Thompson
When you are asked to think of iconic British wildlife, most of us would think of the red squirrel, mute swan, hedgehog, red deer, badger, barn owl: the list goes on! But where on this list of species would the English Oak come?
The English Oak or Quercus robur to use its binomial name is the most common tree in the UK and is found almost everywhere; it stands at over 30 meters tall when fully grown and can live for over a thousand years. This amazing feat of nature provides for hundreds of different species and also has proved to be fundamental in shaping Britain into the country it is today.
From where I’m sat I can see an oak tree and in it there are countless species from the big woodpigeon eyeing up the garden feeders to the smallest of insects that provide food for everything up the food chain; they all use and rely on this tree to go about their lives. Scientists reckon that over 280 different species of insect use an English Oak out of necessity at some point in their life. During the autumn, the Oak trees drop acorns to the ground; this in turn provides food for species such as badgers, red and grey squirrels, deer and other mammals to get through the harsh winter months. This shows that without the oak tree much of our British wildlife wouldn’t be here. It goes on: the British oak tree uses sunlight and carbon dioxide to produce oxygen and as our most abundant tree it provides more oxygen and removes more carbon dioxide as a species than any other.
I think it’s fair to say that without the English Oak, Britain would be a very different place. For starters, we wouldn’t have been able to build the great ships that protected our coastline from many invaders, we wouldn’t have been able to sail around the world and create our empire, we wouldn’t have been able to establish trade links that allowed our country to become the economic hub of the world. Yet we overlook it and cast it as just another tree. I believe the English Oak has done more for the human race than any other species.
In England, the English Oak has long been seen as a symbol of strength and survival; it has played a pivotal role in many myths and legends and royalty has admired and taken influence from its beauty. The Greek god Zeus was said consider the Oak sacred and even showed the Oak trees strength by striking them with his lightning bolts.
Personally, I have chosen the Oak tree as I believe it directly supports more life than any other species. I volunteer at RSPB Swell Woods in Somerset. This wood is an ancient Oak woodland and through spending many hours there I have come to realise how important they are. These Oaks at Swell Woods hold the largest heronry in the south west; they also provide nests for many woodland birds, shelter for many mammals and food for many insects. It truly is an amazing piece of British nature and this is why I believe it is the most important natural entity in the UK.