Oak trees are one of the most iconic species on earth. In Britain, pedunculate and sessile oak trees remind us of our pre-industrial past, when oaks were cultural and spiritual icons. Oaks are commonly said to grow for 300 years, remain stable for 300 years and decline for 300 years. Yet some oaks can live for over a thousand years and some live far shorter lives.
In Britain oaks were also a key resource for construction of buildings and ships, an industry which is said to have put the ‘Great’ in Great Britain. In London we still have oaks sleeping in front gardens which pre-date those Victorian houses and hark back to rural times. It is these oaks which I really love the most, for they are the true survivors, as much as some of the oldest oaks. The London oaks have overcome intense development, pollution, war and social upheaval on a scale not seen to many of the oldest rural oaks. In London it is one of the three most common species and its environmental importance can’t be underestimated.
The aim is to promote the conservation of these trees and more that are not yet known
I have also had the chance to photograph oak trees and learn about them closely in the past six years on a weekly basis. Things that can’t be replicated in photographs are the smell of the tannins in oak when a tree falls or has to be cut, the roughness of the bark and the toughness of the leaves. It is an ecologically enriching wild tree, supporting thousands of insect species, as well as fungi, lichens, algae, birds, mammals and even other trees!
My first attempt was to produce an oaks of London series to highlight the conservation of the oaks left in the city. All creative projects meet limits and boundaries, and I have had to focus on south London, mainly Dulwich where many fine oaks still reside, and forays onto the North Downs and into other areas of the countryside. If I could photograph all of Europe’s oaks that would be fine. In truth this is a project that will probably last many years and will change.
The aim is to promote the conservation of these trees and more that are not yet known, to contribute to the historical research of the trees and their landscapes and to celebrate their visual power and importance. In London this is in support of London Wildlife Trust, Southwark Council and The Dulwich Society.