Let nature help shed modern stress

By Bill Shepard

Friday, December 6, 2013


Let nature help shed modern stress

The American giant, the coastal redwood.

NATURE NOTES ON more than one occasion, I have heard the remark,"IW? I’ve seen that, I had a fortnight’s holiday there".

After almost nine decades, I am still walking the byways of this incomparable Island and new questions occur.

In walking the former Newport-Cowes rail track, I counted the mature apple trees by the track side, 26 of them, fruit laden but not gathered by the affluent society.

Apple trees but no pears. Was there legislation forbidding the throwing of pear cores from train windows?I am yet to discover a pear tree by the side of the former track.

That single incident reveals how my mind works.

How on earth does one develop such a mind set? That I can attribute to my father. A prisoner of war during the 1914-1918 conflict, he came home and was immediately recalled to his regiment, to go to Ireland, a seriously troubled country at that time.

Finally, a homecoming and celebrations that resulted in my birth. Apart from a devoted wife, there was no one to turn to, to soothe a troubled mind after six years of war-torn strife.

Father had the perfect solution, a walk in the country for solace and the gathering of nature’s bounty.

It was into that situation I was born and one of my earliest recollections was riding a tiny children’s cycle as far as Chillerton from Newport and there to dismount and walk along Highwood Lane, looking for our first sighting of an adder on a warm March day. It was a way of life that was to be mine, for almost a century.

I have been a member of the IW Natural History and Archaeology Society for more than half a century.

Many answers to my queries have been met by the society but many remain.

For instance, what is that wonderful tree in the Western Gardens, along with its younger brother, you can find walking along Ryde Esplanade, the most floriferous waterfront on the Island?

These rare trees, possibly the only specimens on the Island, compel the viewer to admire their bark, painted surely by an artist with a full palette.

The Esplanade has that staid Victorian look, a line of dour plane trees. It may be a difficult habitat, with salt-laden winds, but there are numerous more rewarding species, capable of enduring such as climate. Flower, fruit and autumn colour would greatly enhance the scene.

This insistence on planting only native trees reduces the choice available to fewer than 40 species.

Sycamore, a resident of more than four centuries, is still considered an alien.

What of the sweet chestnut, introduced by the Romans, two thousand years ago? This makes a mockery of such divisions.

That tree called liquid amber, a Japanese acer, so beautifully situated in Rylstone Gardens, Shanklin, can only be described as a firework as it sheds its summer coat, in a blaze of colour, a spectacle worth travelling the length and breadth of the Island to witness.

That American giant, the coastal redwood, or sequoia, is extremely content in our company.

Firestone Copse is the place to see this species at its best.

Planted in two rows by the Forestry Commissions in 1926, these giants are a hundred feet high and have produced a thicket of offspring. It is the only conifer to reproduce by suckers. In America, it is extremely adaptable, in the right climate conditions.

From the Californian coast to the High Sierras, the whole world has seen pictures of the 300-foot giants in the national parks of Yosemite and High Sierra, where the onshore sea mists provide as much moisture as average rainfall.

The climate swathe of the American west coast supports a big population of magnificent trees but on the east coast they struggle to reach 60 feet.

There is one, on Big Mead, Shanklin, a Wellingtonia, by the pond, in front of St Blasius’s church, which is 100 feet.

These wonderful and historic trees (some 2,000 years old) represent a way of life that sheds the stress of modern living. Come and join us.

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