Last week, my friend Barbara and I went on a bit of a pilgrimage to visit this ancient tree. A wild pear (Pyrus Pyraster), the ancestor of our domestic pear trees, it stands at the top of a hill, close to the village of Cubbington in Warwickshire, overlooking the Leam Valley. It is thought to be at least 250 years old, is the largest of its kind in Warwickshire and the second largest in the country. It was voted England’s Tree of the Year for 2015, it came 8th in the European Tree of the Year 2016, but its days are numbered.
To get to the pear tree, we walked through South Cubbington Wood. We were greeted by the sharp, clear rat-a-tat of a woodpecker as we stepped under the trees. It was not a spectacular May day, the sky was overcast and a fine rain was falling, a small rain, the kind that gets things growing. The woods were just coming into full leaf and the woodland floor was carpeted with bluebells and white wood anemones. Violets and primroses showed in the mossy hollows.
It has been here a very long time. An outlier of the once vast Forest of Arden, it would have been old when Shakespeare was alive. This patch of ancient woodland has probably been there since the end of the last Ice Age.
|Christopher Saxton's 16th Century Map of Warwickshire|
But it will soon be no more. This might be the last time for us to see the ancient woodland in its Spring new leaf and the old pear tree in full blossom before HS2 comes powering through this peaceful, timeless landscape. Hence the pilgrimage. In the construction of the railway much of the wood will be destroyed, including the half a dozen rare wild service trees (Sorbus torminalis) that grow there. The wild pear tree will be grubbed up. Hedgerows will be torn out, fields obliterated, public footpaths and ancient rights of way cut as the railway passes Cubbington in a cutting a hundred metres wide and up to nineteen metres deep and leaves the Leam valley scarred by an embankment nine metres high.
|Cubbington's old pear - Frances Wilmot|
It is not just South Cubbington Wood that is set to go. Sixty three Ancient Woodlands will be threatened as HS2 cuts though England's heartland.
|Woodland Trust Website|
When Baroness Young made the case for our ancient woodlands during the House of Lords debate on HS2, she spoke for many:
Ancient woodland is not just important, it is irreplaceable.'