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Historic Paignton tree succumbs to Storm Kathleen

A historic tree in Primley Park, Paignton, collapsed on Sunday evening. It was suffering from age-related defects, along with the consistent wet and windy weather. However, the strong winds of Storm Kathleen proved to be the final nail in the coffin for this ancient tree.

At more than 230-years-old, the Lucombe oak’s age and height made it particularly susceptible to the high winds experienced in South Devon over the weekend, compounded by the excessive rainfall over the past few months.

This semi-evergreen hybrid of a turkey oak and a cork oak was first cultivated in the 1760s by the horticulturalist William Lucombe from Exeter. The tree in Primley was probably one of the first cache of these oaks to be planted in the UK.

Primley Park is under the ownership and management of conservation charity Wild Planet Trust, which also owns nature reserves at Clennon Gorge and Slapton Ley.

Dave Ellacott, Reserve Warden for the Trust, stated:

“In 2006, we undertook extensive tree surgery to extend its life and mitigate any potential damage that could be caused by a collapse. We had hoped that this work would see the tree hang on for longer, and are devastated to have lost it so soon. However, we are thankful that, as a result of the work carried out, no significant damage or harm has been done.”

This incident follows the recent collapse of a 50-year-old cherry tree at Paignton Zoo, which is also part of the Wild Planet Trust charity. Both trees were considered ‘veterans’ with age-related issues that had been exacerbated by bad weather.

Dave continued:

“We will begin clearing some of the tree to make it safe and exploring ways to re-use some parts of it. The remaining bulk of the tree will become an important habitat for native species, so we will keep that in place.”

Storm Kathleen is the 11th named storm in eight months. It is believed that the increased frequency of extreme weather events is correlated to climate change. As a conservation charity dedicated to helping halt species decline, Wild Planet Trust have expressed concern over the detrimental effects caused to nature and wildlife.

Wild Planet Trust’s Chief Impact Officer, Steve Nash, commented:

“It is worrying to see how frequent these ‘extraordinary’ weather events are becoming. The loss of the Lucombe oak, along with the champion cherry tree within the grounds of Paignton Zoo, provides a visible reminder that the climate crisis is already affecting us all. We must act now to protect natural habitats and stop valuable species from disappearing”