‘Trees are more than part of the background’

Jerry Gunton has always had ‘a soft spot for a tree trail’. “I think all trees have an interesting story to tell,” says Sheffield Council’s tree manager for the Parks & Countryside service.
Italian alder at Whirlow Brook ParkItalian alder at Whirlow Brook Park
Italian alder at Whirlow Brook Park

“I think all trees have an interesting story to tell.”

Over the years Jerry and his team have put together mobile ‘tree trails’ for special events to let people know about the trees in their local area. More recently, locals have taken the idea on in their own patches, with Friends groups like Friends of Parkwood Springs and the Wadsley and Loxley Commoners setting up notices of their ‘tree of the month’ to help visitors learn about the trees in their local parks and green spaces.

Sheffield’s hilly terrain means many of our woodlands date back to prehistoric times, since ploughing and farming was not possible on the steep slopes of places like Ladies Spring Wood in Beauchief and Woolley Wood near Wincobank.

Deodar cedar with Whirlow Brook Hall behindDeodar cedar with Whirlow Brook Hall behind
Deodar cedar with Whirlow Brook Hall behind
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But they’ve all been managed and worked by humans in the past too, and many woodlands throw up curiosities, like hangers of Beech trees planted when the fashion brought southern English trees to the north.

And then there were parks like Whirlow Brook originally planned and planted out by wealthy owners like Lady Madge Benton Jones in the 1920s and 30s, herself a keen gardener, who wanted to collect interesting specimens from around the world.

The Friends of Whirlow Brook Park knew there were plenty of unusual trees in the park, and contacted Jerry Gunton to try and learn more. After landing a small grant from the Local Area Committee, Jerry and the Friends have been busy identifying dozens of trees that will eventually form a tree trail in the park of 50 species. Some are native trees like Hazel and English Oak, whereas others have been hard to pin down, not least since original records have been lost.

The park came into council ownership in 1946, and the city council also planted some exotic trees, but Jerry Gunton had to resort to careful examination of leaf, branch and seed structures to work out the details of some species.

Raywood ash tree at Whilow Broook ParkRaywood ash tree at Whilow Broook Park
Raywood ash tree at Whilow Broook Park
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“We think this is one of the best places to see trees in Sheffield outside the Botanical Gardens,” says Maggie Girling of the Friends.

John Turner and Shelagh Woolliscroft and David Jordan from Friends of Whirlow Brook Park helped Jerry Gunton a trail of 34 trees, with another half dozen to be added soon.

There are trees from China, Chile, Italy and New Zealand, apparently thriving on the heights close to Sheffield’s moors, and in some cases trees brought in from other countries might help us identify resilient species for the local area at a time when the weather is getting warmer and more extreme.

In the past, people have often seen trees in a park as: “Just part of the background, like pictures on a wall,” says John Turner of Friends of Whirlow Brook Park. The hope is that the trail will help visitors learn more about the variety of trees growing in Sheffield.

Jerry Gunton, tree manager, SCC Parks & CountrysideJerry Gunton, tree manager, SCC Parks & Countryside
Jerry Gunton, tree manager, SCC Parks & Countryside
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The trail is accessed via metal plates with QR codes on the top of a series of wooden stakes planted near the trees. The code take visitors to a page describing the tree and some of its features and history.

The huge Raywood Ash, for example, originally from Australia but now doing well here, and apparently not affected by the deadly ash dieback disease.

And the huge Corsican Pines, now realising their stature in the park that their planters had in mind 100 years ago, and the equally impressive gnarled Italian Alder by the pond, which John Turner says is the best specimen of Italian Alder in Yorkshire.

More plates and stakes will go in soon to bring the total trail close to 40 trees, and the Friends are also preparing some leaflets about the trail. There’s talk of a smiler trail at Firth Park, and Jerry says if any other Friends or similar groups fancy a tree trail, just get in touch.

> https://friendsofwhirlowbrookpark.org.uk/tree-trail/

> https://www.sheffield.gov.uk/parks-sport-recreation/parks-green-spaces