Sci CommBlogs

Time waits for no one, not even nature

Thursday 10th August 2023

Curious about life in our woodland?

Follow Roger on Instagram @scienceoxfordnature for insight into life in our woodland, and about what Roger sees and does as Science Oxford’s Outdoor Learning and Ecology Manager.

Time waits for no one, not even nature

Something I’ve been thinking about recently is the speed at which time seems to be flying by. As a parent of two young children, I get regular updates from my social media accounts of what we as a family were doing last year, two years ago, and even 10 years ago.  I see how my children have grown almost exponentially, not to mention how I have simultaneously aged over this same period!

Nature and time

Timescales are a funny thing when you work in nature. Some lives are begun, lived and end in almost the blink of an eye, while those of other living things can span centuries. Since I first visited the site of the Science Oxford Centre over seven years ago, some things have changed dramatically, but blissfully much has stayed the same.

In this time, new buildings have been constructed, wildflower meadows have been planted and generations of shorter lived animals have been and gone. But it is reassuring to stand next to a magnificent oak tree (Quercus robur) or verdant horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum), which would have germinated long before I was a twinkle in my parents’ eyes, and feel confident that if I continue to do my job these will significantly outlast me.

Man beneath oak tree, showing scale of tree, about 10 times taller than man

Here before us: Roger stands beneath the grand 100-year-old oak tree

Man beneath horse chestnut tree showing scale

Here before us: Many feet have walked beneath this impressive 80-year-old horse chestnut tree

The life expectancy of different species can vary considerably. At the upper end, oak trees might be expected to live for 600 or more years, while yew (Taxus baccata) can live for thousands of years. Among the many other services they provide, whilst alive these trees provide habitat for millions of smaller and shorter lived inhabitants. Even when trees die on site, we try to retain them as safe ‘standing dead wood’ so they continue to provide habitat and form a carbon store while new individuals grow to fill the gaps they have left in the canopy.

The old and the new – not all trees live for hundreds of years. Where we can we leave standing dead wood habitats and plant new specimens in their place.

Our tree history

We believe the oldest trees on our site are around 100 years based on their girth (the circumference of a tree at a specific height above ground used to estimate age). They would have begun life when the process of quarrying for clay on site ceased and the area began to be used by visiting young people under the auspices of Rev John Stansfeld. Back then this was a rural location, but the city rapidly grew up to our doorstep and now we are one of the many green spaces within the city limits. While we lack any of the ‘ancient’ trees that are found at nearby Shotover Country Park, with luck, even when I am long gone, my distant relatives will one day be able to walk around the site marvelling at the centuries old arboreal giants and think about what changes they have overseen.

How well do you know your trees?

The BCC in partnership with The Wildlife Trusts have put together a guide and quiz to help you and your children become tree detectives on your next trip outdoors. Find the quiz and the parent’s toolkit for activities here.

Share this News