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Trasmochos (pollards) of the Basque

David Humphries



A return to the trees of northern Spain



Beech pollards at the Urkiola Monastery October 2017



A 10 year project sharing experience from the UK, Sweden & Spain on the ecology, cultural importance and vulnerability of pollarded trees across Europe.     

The Basque area (as well as similar UK sites) have many examples of where pollards left out of regular cutting succumb to dysfunction, decline and fungal colonisation by Kretzschmaria deusta, Meripilus giganteus , Fomes fomentarius, Ganoderma pfeiferri & G. australe leading to part or whole tree failure.


The project has been focusing on the most successful ways of restoring lapsed pollards by a range of reduction techniques, to mitigate failure & decline.    



Wind loaded pollard failure associated with Fomes fomentarius 2017      



Root plate pollard failure associated with Meripilus giganteus 2009



A comparison of pollarding techniques was undertaken across the Basque region at various sites.                                                                                                                                                                     

A total of 38 lapsed pollards were cut in the Basque tradition (using axe/chain saw, down to just above the bolling) and in the Epping Forest and Burnham Beeches styles (using chainsaw and handsaws at a higher level in a phased 5-10 year cycle. 27 trees were cut by Spanish arborists  and 11 cut by UK arborists , with both sets of climbers mixing styles. 



Basque style   





Epping Forest style                                          



Burnham Beeches style (Image taken by  H. J. Read)



After three growing seasons a team of ecologists and arborists from the UK visited the three sites and measured the vitality of the canopy growth and decline of the target trees to assess the response and reaction to the cutting.   



Among other things like general vigour, the length & diameter of cut stubs, how many new shoots and clusters of epicormics growth were recorded from 10 cut branches from all cardinal points per tree.



Measuring on an Epping Forest style  repollard      



Measuring on a Basque style repollard


See previous blog entry & thread on the 2009 trip for further context…..




Jan 2013.                                                                                                                                                        

Observations of the 2009 measuring/recording were presented in the Read et al paper published in the Arboricultural Journal -

Restoration of lapsed beech pollards: Evaluation of techniques and guidance for future work’                                                                                                                     

Helen J. Read, Jeremy Dagley, Jose Miguel Elosegui, Alvaro Sicilia & C.P. Wheater.


In conclusion the paper suggest that the pre-cutting vitality of a pollarded tree is an important factor and that retaining stubs of at least 500mm may be significant in the development of dormant buds. Avoid cutting branches over thirty years old as the ripe wood begins to deteriorate and the tree is less able to occlude wounds.



A UK team from the City of London Corporation Open Spaces spent a week at the European Symposium on Pollarded trees, visiting sites, discussing experience on lapsed pollard restoration & looking at the natural heritage of the Basque region of Spain                                                                                     


Image taken by Jez Young



On a drive south from Bilboa in to the Navarre region, our group stopped off at the Monastery at Urkiola to see large numbers of lapsed beech pollards.







Pollard Symposium at the Leitza Town Hall                                                                                                                  

The conference started with a  set of presentations on the veteran trees and pollards at the four Open Spaces of Burnham Beeches, Epping Forest, Ashtead Common & Hampstead Heath. Followed by presentations from Ted Green MBE, Ecologists and Arboriculturists from Sweden and Spain.



Image taken by Jez Young




Question time followed by a fantastic exhibition of cross sections of local ring & diffuse porous tree species 









Urkizu - pollard restoration work.  Revisiting some of the 2007 cut pollards.








After an interesting hike up into the hills above Leitza, looking at pollards and Basque living heritage on route, the group participated in a field work shop with Spanish Arborists (Samuel Alvarez  & Oriol the axeman) with the aim of further restoring a lapsed pollard (last reduced in 2007) by axe & chainsaw being directed by CoL Ecologists and Arborists.









Urbasa-Andía Natural Park in western Navarre                                                                                           

A visit with Swedish ecologists and members of the Ancient Tree Forum to see oak, beech & maple pollards in wood pasture grazed by horses & cattle.



Maple pollards



Oak Pollards



Oianleku - Aiako Harria Natural Park                                                                                                                     

Revisit to the 2007 City of London cut pollards as well as assessing an area of Spanish hard cut pollards which appeared to have a high mortality rate.






The Future   



Whilst the tradition of pollarding younger trees for winter fodder continues in the mountains and foothills of the Basque country, the project is ongoing with a few keen people cutting just a few old pollards each year and trying to source funding for the restoration program into the future.

There is an appetite for an ongoing collaboration with Basque & Spanish arborists with the potential for working visits to the UK to work with Arborists in Suffolk and with the City of London Teams whilst working on the veteran pollards at Burnham Beeches in 2018.


This was yet again an amazing and inspiring trip and I very much hope to return to enjoy the heritage and tradition of the Basque way of life.


[email protected]



Recommended Comments

Really interesting project David!


Must be a real chore visiting those sites :PxD


where pollards left out of regular cutting succumb to dysfunction, decline and fungal colonisation  does this mean that regularly pollarded trees are less susceptible to fungal colonisation?

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30 minutes ago, josharb87 said:

Really interesting project David!


Must be a real chore visiting those sites :PxD


where pollards left out of regular cutting succumb to dysfunction, decline and fungal colonisation  does this mean that regularly pollarded trees are less susceptible to fungal colonisation?

It's a hard slog Josh, but someone had to step up and volunteer :D


Higher vitality trees (ones with lots of dense photosynthetic material) which are subjected to smaller sized cuts, (because the regrowth is younger and less size in diameter) can occlude and compartmentalise the wounds more effectively than lower vitality trees with large wounds. This will hinder fungal colonising species with wound entrance strategies (not including the dormant endophytic species though) 

The older lapsed pollards (with large diameter wood volume and tall old-growth poles) can end up having large tear outs which open large wounds which get colonised more readily.



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