Children chanted “cut it down, cut it down” when a mature English oak tree aged more than 100 years was felled in woodlands at Blenheim Park on a cold, sleety morning.
They were among 250 pupils from primary schools close to Blenheim at Combe, Stonesfield and Bladon and from two more further afield, Willow Croft in Didcot, and Wood Farm in Headington, Oxford, who have been taking part in the One Oak educational project run by the Sylva Foundation, based at Little Wittenham.
Pupils at the five schools began studying the life of the oak in the autumn term last year when they visited the tree and started writing about it and doing art work. They also wrote blogs on their computers.
Dr Gabriel Hemery, co-founder of the Sylva Foundaton, said: “We wanted to give children an experience of a woodland and widen the understanding of woodland management.”
After the felling of the oak, the children, aged seven and eight years, will be following the uses to which the timber is put as it is converted into furniture and other purposes.
But their studies will not stop there. In the autumn this year, they will return to Blenheim to plant 250 oak saplings — one for each pupil — to replenish the woodland.
The saplings will be planted close together to ensure straight growth so that fine timber will be harvested one day.
Returning to that cold, sleet-filled day when the tree came down, Dr Hemery said: “When the tree was being felled by the forestry staff at Blenheim, there was a fantastic atmosphere and the children quite spontaneously began chanting, cut it down, cut it down. After the tree hit the ground with a big thump, there was a silence all round.”
The oak, donated by Blenheim Estate, was 79ft tall with a crown 59ft in diameter and a trunk about 3ft in diameter.
It is believed the oak was 160 years old, but that will be verified later when dendrology readings are analysed.
Every part of the tree will be utilised — even the branches and twigs will be reduced to wood chipping for fuel and smokeries.
“After the tree was felled we discovered a rare moss in the branches,” said Dr Hemery.
The moss will be studied by experts as part of the scientific work being carried out on the tree by Forestry Research, a government agency. The complete carbon content of the oak will be recorded as part of the work.
Branches and twigs were removed before the trunk was transported to Deep in the Wood sawmill at Besslesleigh, near Oxford, where it was cut into three huge sections or logs.
Some of the timber from the oak is being donated to Wallingford Museum’s new wooden-framed extension, which will show how wood has been used in buildings from Tudor times onwards.
Other timber will be divided between craftsmen and women.
The first fruits of their craftsmanship will be on display at the Blenheim craft fair held over the Spring Bank Holiday at the end of May.
Other results will be seen at the Art in Action event at Waterperry Gardens in July.
Students at the Rycotewood department of the Oxford and Cherwell Valley College are also receiving some of the wood to work on. Members of the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire branch ot the British Woodcarvers Association and Symm, the Oxfordshire builders, will also have some of the timber. The One Oak project has stimulated a lot of interest from the general public and scientists.
“We have even had a piece of music composed about the oak by a group of musicians in Sussex. The music will be part of the soundtrack of a 25-minute film about the project being made by the Oxford University Film Unit,” said Dr Hemery. So one of the objects of the project has been fulfilled — to bring people closer to an understanding of trees and woodland management