For more than 300 years, Blenheim Palace, one of England's largest homes, has stood guard over countless historical treasures, artwork, and more than 2,000 acres of rolling forests and lavish gardens. As botanist Aljos Farjon recently discovered, the country manor has also been protecting a very old secret: the largest collection of ancient oaks in Europe.
The trees, some with a circumference measuring more than 30 feet, were discovered within Blenheim Palace's High Park, a 120-acre forest originally created by King Henry I as part of a royal deer park in the 12th century. Thanks to this early designation, as well as an appreciation by the palace's original landscaper for ancient trees, the forest has been able to retain as many as 60 oaks dating back to the Middle Ages. (As astute readers have pointed out, a tree's age can be roughly determined by doing a simple calculation based on the circumference of the tree about 4.5 feet off the ground.)
"High Park is, in my view, the most stunning site in Europe for ancient oaks," Farjon told Megan Archer of the Oxford Times. Farjon has been researching ancient trees in England for a new book on the subject. "No other landscape in England has greater biodiversity, especially from invertebrates, fungi and lichens."
While a handful of the trees are estimated to be at least 900 years old, the Oxford Times reports that the Blenheim Palace forestry team may have stumbled upon an ancient oak deep in the woods that's even older. It's possible that it may eclipse in age the Bowthorpe Oak, a 1,000-plus-year-old tree thought to be the oldest oak in England.
“There is not really anything like this in Europe," said Farjon of High Park's significance. "There are 22 sites of great importance in England, and Blenheim Palace is right at the top of this.
“It’s one of those places where time really stops.”