Ancient Trees, CAS

The Birch with the upturned hands, Cumbria

Geltsdale, in north Cumbria, is a wonderful example of ancient wood pasture habitat.  Amongst its numerous veteran trees is this special silver birch.

Iris Glimmerveen of the Ancient Tree Forum’s new Cumbria group , explains that the ‘birch with upturned hands’ as she calls it, was blown over by a strong easterly wind, and as a result, it lost some of its roots, and its branches crashed to the ground. ‘Where the branches touched the soil they managed to put out roots, which then nourished and revitalised them. The remaining stems have taken the shape of upturned hands. The tree may appear as nine separate stems, but when you look more closely you can see that the stems are linked and can be traced back all the way to the fallen main stem. This birch has taught me to be a tree detective.’

Fallen but regenerating trees are one of the features you might expect to see in wood pasture, along with a mosaic of open grassland, patches of shrubs, and large ancient and other veteran trees. Geltsdale is grazed by cattle, but the trees have not been utilised within living memory as they would have been in earlier days. ‘Neither the owner, nor the tenant had any need to manage Geltsdale’s trees for timber so only branches blocking paths were cut’, says Iris. ‘This birch, and many others, were left as they fell. As they recovered many took on peculiar shapes.

The birch with the upturned hands has been nominated as one of Cumbria’s top fifty trees by Iris, who explains why it’s her favourite tree: ‘Its characteristic shape clearly shows that yes, it fell over, but  then turned this into a positive event by putting out roots and continuing to grow. For me, this is the equivalent of ‘dusting yourself off and starting all over again’, so when life deals me a blow, my tree reminds me that I have gained a valuable experience, can regain control and when ready allow myself to move on.’

Photographs are by Iris Glimmerveen.

The Ancient Tree Forum champions the biological, cultural and heritage value of Britain’s ancient and veteran trees, and provides advice on their value and management at

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