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Brett Westwood explores how the oak tree has influenced society, art and druidism.

Oak is the symbol of noble endurance, loyalty, strength, constancy and longevity, and there are over 600 species. Heart of Oak is the official march of the Royal Navy - a rallying cry to brave sailors to guard our shores. Tennyson urges us to live our lives like the oak, to be "bright in spring, Living in gold." Its broad, pleasing shape, hard wood and prolific acorns, as well as the lovely shape of the leaves, establishes the oak as the nation's favourite tree.

As a timber its fine qualities also make it perfect for prestigious buildings, such as the debating chamber of the House of Commons. It is the symbol of Germany and the national tree of the US. In war it is used on medals of honour. The acorn has been eaten by many cultures and North American peoples revere the ancient oaks, their acorns made flour and the bark medicine. Oaks have inspired many moral tales. Huge, sturdy oaks grow slowly from small acorns and in The Man Who Planted Trees and old shepherd re-forests a barren valley by carefully and steadily planning a few acorns each day.

We have rested under oaks, climbed them, used their acorns, bark and wood. We have even made music from their tree rings. We see the oak as a symbol of virtue and goodness and in druidism the oak is central to beliefs that stretch back two millennia or more - no wonder we have a love affair with oaks.

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28 minutes

Last on

Mon 26 Oct 2015 21:00

Fred Rumsey

Fred Rumsey
Dr Fred Rumsey is Angela Marmont Centre Enquiries Officer, Plants, at the Natural History Museum in London. He has a strong interest in conservation and deals with plant identification enquiries within the Identification and Advisory Service team.

He also provides expert taxonomic advice to various Taxon Groups, sits on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) specialist groups and referees for several families for the Botanical Society of the British Isles.

Penny Billington

Penny Billington
Penny Billington is a Druid of 20 years practical experience, trained by the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids.

She is editor of Touchstone magazine and author of The Path of Druidry and The Wisdom of Birch, Oak and Yew. She is also a regular speaker on all aspects of Druidry.

Picture: Penny Billington and Brett Westwood

Dr Amy Cutler

Dr Amy Cutler
Dr. Amy Cutler  is a literary geographer, writer, and curator based at the University of Leeds, who works on poetry and British environmental cultures. She is also the lead academic on a cross-disciplinary White Rose funded network, Hearts of Oak: Caring for British Forests, based at Leeds, Sheffield, and York, and involving woodland partners and site specific pilot projects in environmental management.

In 2013 she curated the exhibition Time, the deer, is in the wood of Hallaig, on forests, history, and social and environmental memory, and in 2014 she was selected for AHRC Science in Culture’s shortlist of fifteen early career researchers in the UK doing the most inspiring work in arts-science collaboration.

Esmond Harris

Esmond Harris
Esmond Harris has spent a lifetime working as a forester, and is a past Director of The Royal Forestry Society. With his wife Jeanette Harris, a naturalist and author, he wrote Oak: A British History and the Reader's Digest Guide to the Trees and Shrubs of Britain.

In 2002, he and Jeanette won the Duke of Cornwall's Award for Forestry and Conservation for the renovation of woodlands at the small farm they ran in Cornwall.

David Gentleman

David Gentleman
David Gentleman is a watercolourist, lithographer, wood engraver and designer. His work is compiled in numerous the books including In The Country, London You're Beautiful and David Gentleman's Britain.
He redesigned the National Trust's oak leaf logo, designed British postage stamps and his platform-length mural at Charing Cross underground station is well-known to Londoners and he has published lithographs and screenprints and designed British postage stamps.

His work is represented in Tate Britain, the British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Brian Lavery

Brian Lavery
Brian Lavery is a British Naval and Maritime historian, expert in shipbuilding techniques including the use of oak. He is the author of over 30 books and consultant on the blockbuster film Master and Commander: the Far Side of the World. His latest book is The Conquest of the Ocean: The Illustrated History of the Seafaring.

Stuart Phillips

Stuart Phillips
Stuart Phillips trained in horticulture at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew before taking up a career as a horticultural lecturer at Reaseheath College in Cheshire and Moulton College, Northampton.

He works for Lantra Sector Skills Council as Product Development Manger for Forestry and Arboriculture and has been a regular contributor to gardening programmes on BBC radio, giving gardening advice and answering listeners’ questions.

He is also the author of An Encyclopaedia of Plants in Myth Legend Magic and Lore and he is a Fellow of the Linnean Society of London.


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