Today I return again to an image of a tree; in this case the most common tree species in Britain , the English oak. Familiarity need never be a reason to overlook the glory of the creation and the oak tree proves this truth. This photograph depicts an oak tree on a field boundary above the River Thames in Berkshire near the village of Wargrave. It was in early leaf on a sunny morning in mid-April.
The oak tree has acquired a status as an emblem of England. A reference to the oak is claimed for many town or village place-names. One of the largest and oldest living specimens is a tree known as the Major Oak, standing in Sherwood Forest near Nottingham and associated with the legend of Robin Hood and his Merry Men. It is frequently voted in popular polls as England’s favourite tree.
Oak trees were revered in pre-Christian European cultures and dedicated to the gods. A seminal episode in the conversion to Christianity of the Germanic peoples of central Europe is recounted in the story of St Boniface; the monk from Devon sent by the Pope to preach the gospel in the early 8th century. Famously he is said to have felled a mighty oak tree which was a sacred site of ritual sacrifice to the god Thor. The people were so impressed by his fearlessness that they accepted his message and were baptised into Christ.
The oak tree has many historic associations in English history, not least the role its wood played in the building of ships for the defence of the nation. It is a timber which continues to be valued in construction for its strength.
Oak forests are important habitats for many animal, bird, insect and plant species. They sustain a high level of biodiversity and support more species than other native woodlands.