Mighty Kett’s Oak given a health boost thanks to tree experts and nature’s medicine

At over 500 years old, the health of this fragile ancient oak tree was in jeopardy. Thanks to intervention by tree experts and the addition of a natural soil improver known as ‘biochar’, with careful monitoring, the tree’s condition is hoped to improve.    

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As the renowned meeting place of Robert Kett and his followers in 1549, before their uprising against rich landowners who refused them access to common grazing land, Kett’s Oak is one the UK’s most famous and protected trees.

Since the 1960s the tree’s main branches have been supported by a wooden frame, cables and braces. A recent health investigation of the tree’s roots, crown, structure and surrounding soil by Treecare Consultants Ltd highlighted a progressive decline in its health and dieback on some of the branch tips.

The Broads Authority and Norfolk County Council have teamed up to use a natural soil improver produced in the Broads National Park known as ‘biochar’, which, alongside other measures should give the tree a new lease of life.

Biochar is a charcoal-like substance, produced using leftover wood from conservation work in and around the Broads. When burnt slowly in a special burner, biochar locks in carbon. Its highly porous, honeycomb structure also locks in water, nutrients, microbes, fungi and other essential nutrients, making it hugely beneficial for soil.

In fact, adding just small pieces of biochar (less than 1 cm) and compost to soil has been scientifically shown to improve soil and subsequent tree growth. Its addition to the soil around Kett’s Oak is hoped to aerate the compacted soil, increase water and nutrients within the soil, as well boost beneficial soil microbes.

Broads Authority Environment Policy Adviser, Andrea Kelly, said, “It’s great to be working on a project with such a significant environmental benefit, and finally helping a famous ancient oak tree.

“The UK’s oldest oak is said to be over 1,000 years old, so we hope this work helps the Kett’s Oak live for another 500 years.”

Andrea commented, “We have also produced high quality BBQ charcoal which is on sale from a few outlets around the Broads, including Fairhaven Gardens, who are currently trialling the use of the project’s innovative low-emissions biochar burner.’

Cllr Andy Grant, cabinet member for the environment, said, “We want to see this much loved and historically important tree thrive for hundreds more years. In the past some quite invasive methods such as metal braces and concrete were used to help support the structure of the tree. Even though these methods may have been common 50 years ago, times have changed, and we’re now using sympathetic and better informed techniques.

“Expert scans and testing suggest an effective approach is to boost the health of the tree through improving the soil it lives in. I hope over the coming years we will be able to see and appreciate the results of this careful work being undertaken to help this famous tree thrive for future generations to enjoy.”

Ongoing monitoring will indicate whether the soil improvements alongside the tree preservation measures have been a success.

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