Residents of the village will be very aware of the tragic damage that has befallen the magnificent beech tree which has stood in the turning circle of the College since long before the College was founded.
On Sunday 20th September, the day before the students returned for the new term, in totally still and calm weather conditions, a massive limb of the tree without warning separated and fell to the ground. Mercifully no person, building or vehicle was hit, even though the area is such a busy thoroughfare.
Ironically, the tree - along with others at the College - had been inspected only a few weeks before and we were awaiting the inspector's report. What the tragedy revealed, however, was that while the roots and basic life systems of the tree appeared to be in good order, fungus and rot had seriously invaded the main structure. Some readers may recall that a number of years ago another branch - to the road side - failed, and so this problem has probably been growing for some time.
We immediately contacted the SODC, both because the beech has a Tree Preservation Order and also (naturally) because it is such an iconic and much loved feature of the village and College. Very sadly, the advice from the most senior and expert sources was that the tree could not be saved. There is real doubt that it could survive the massive surgery that would be necessary, and - unbalanced and uneven as it had become, particularly with the fungus and rot, - it now represented a serious safety risk to the whole community. Thus, with deep sadness and real regret - and only because there was no alternative - we have had to have the tree removed.
With it goes a slice of the village's history and a significant landmark for all who have lived here. We think the tree might have been planted around the time the Bishop's palace was rebuilt following the Civil War in the mid-1600s and was already probably into its third century when the College was founded in 1854. We are told that 350 years would be considered a good age for a beech tree. It is moving to think of the generations of villagers and students and others who will have admired it and sheltered under it and been inspired by it.
It is early days in what is a significant community bereavement to be making detailed plans but it will be important both to honour the memory of this tree and ensure it has successors to delight future generations. We have preserved some of the timber of the old tree and will be thinking about the best uses to which it can be put, and will also be planning what to plant, when and (precisely) where. I very much hope that any reader of this who wishes to contribute ideas or thoughts about any of this will feel free to communicate with me at the College. The beech tree belonged to the people of Cuddesdon, quite as much to successive College communities: I pray that as all share the sense of grief at its passing, all may share in the discernment of the future.
Principal, Ripon College
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