LOCAL HISTORY SECTION
The Black Poplar at Formby Point
In October 2008, Patricia Lockwood and I visited the Wirral. While there, by chance, we were shown a large Black Poplar tree in a Hoylake garden. This reminded Pat that her friend, the late Vera Gordon, had recorded a similar specimen at Formby Point many years ago, so we went to see if it was still there. Sue enough, we found the tree near Victoria Road carpark. Unexpectedly, however, it was accompanied by another 83 similar trees in woodland, which Pat christened “Vera’s Grove”. Nearby, stood more of what looked like the same kind of tree around the old asparagus fields.
This was a surprise because the Black Poplar (Populus nigra sub-
I have been studying the plants of the sand-
Among the main characters of the true Black Poplar are
We decided to find out how many Black Poplars there were at Formby Point and map their positions using a hand-
This represents a nationally significant number of this rare tree and a population that was previously unknown. It is important to stress that all of them have been planted and they are all male trees, distinguished by the red catkins in spring. Females were rarely planted because they produce copious white fluffy seed which blows around and can be a nuisance.
The question arises, when were they planted and why? Most were found in the following locations:
Presumably most were planted to provide shelter from strong winds and the blowing sand that was so prevalent in the past, before the dunes became much more stable about 50 years ago. Also, in the 2008 book Sand & sea: Sefton’s Coastal Heritage, Reg & Barbara Yorke refer to the use of poplars, known locally as “Frenchmen”, as nurse trees for pine plantations.
Several Black Poplars were found during our survey along the edges of Corsican Pine plantations in the National Trust estate and also at Ravenmeols, while a much smaller number was noted within the plantations. Most of the original nurse trees must have disappeared long ago, as they were shaded out by the fast-
The question arises, when were they planted and how old are they now? Some of the trees appear really ancient having massive collapsed limbs. Often these have rooted into the ground, sending up new stems that have matured into substantial trees in their own right. Annual ring counts would ideally be used to determine age but this requires specialised equipment and techniques, so we had to use indirect methods as follows:
The youngest Black Poplars at Formby Point appear to be those around the National Trust asparagus fields, presumably planted for shelter by the growers. They first appear as small trees on aerial photos taken in 1974. That would make them 40-
In summary then, we think the Black Poplars at Formby Point range in age from about 50 to over 120 years.
Despite being a rare tree, these Black Poplars are not of major nature conservation value because they are all planted. However, they are of considerable interest as part of the land-
An article, describing the Black Poplar survey and its findings in much more detail, has been published by the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland in BSBI News 121: 23-