Little Friars Arboretum

Chesham is full of surprises and one of them is it has an arboretum that began by accident! In the early 1990s Christmas trees were planted on a field called Little Friars that sloped down towards Pednor Bottom whilst the owner, Merelene Davis,  was also renovating and procuring new trees for a derelict arboretum elsewhere in the county, she often not resist buying one for her family’s own garden too. As sometimes happens with impulse buys, then found that there was no suitable position in the garden and so the specimen tree was just planted in a space in the field anywhere a Christmas tree had been sold. Then one day, it was suddenly noticed that there were more than 100 different tree species which qualified Little Friars as an arboretum! The great variety of trees, many under threat in their native habitats, like Deodar from India and Pakistan and others like the Zelkova from Japan, an Amur Cork tree, a Phellodendron from between Russia and Korea, the Incense Cedar tree from high in the Sierra Mountains, Podocarps from Southern hemisphere,  are not only a real attraction to tree enthusiasts but relieve the monoculture of firs so help lessen the impact of  pests and diseases.

However the monoculture of Christmas fir trees over two decades had built  up a substantial  aphid problem that sometimes required more than 5 hours a day hand squishing to control in this organic crop. So in 2010, alternate rows of were removed creating 2.4 metre linear meadows between the row of trees which careful management of the grassland has increased the insect predator population hugely as well as allowed wild flowers to flourish which help the insects including bees and butterflies, as well as curbing the aphids.  The mixed species of trees and shrubs are forming canopies in some areas so visitors, whether coming to look at the linear meadows  or to admire and learn about the trees from all over the world, also appreciate how logs left to rot between help create the aroma and air quality of 'Shrinrin- yoko' - 'forest bathing' which  Japanese research in the 1980s recognised as beneficial to physical and mental health. In England, Dr. William Bird's own investigation has revealed that even a 15 minute walk each  day in such environments recorded a marked improvement in health, particularly for relieving depression. Some of  the arboreal world are under threat in their native habitats, as often the people living there, are too.

Our world is so interconnected globally it is often overlooked that it is as citizens we must look after where we live is the most important, not only for ourselves  so we learn but others might emulated. Often authorities used 'environmental concerns' as the reason for cost cutting neglect: An example:- not cutting verges in the countryside which just result in nettles growing instead of a rich variety of vegetation. Roadside verges need  cutting on a careful schedule to produce the mixed flora that benefits insect most and therefore other wildlife, like birds too. There are so many well organized  calls for people to volunteer that we should stop to consider carefully what we do with our free time. Our prime duty surely to act as citizens first and see the best is made of the environment around us and resources used to benefit the whole of society, like providing jobs locally for those not of retirement age. Let all citizens  cherish where we live and see it flourishes for all  inhabitants. 

Christmas trees at Little Friars, are still sold but no longer in December. Instead, customers visit from 1st September to the end of November to choose and tag their tree which is cut down the day they order to collect it in December. New  customers are welcome and can email the address below for more details . When people come to chose their Christmas tree, they can admire the variety of specimen trees that also add to the biodiversity which helps to control pests and attract birds, although it is the conifers that attracts the rare firecrest that is often seen here.

Guided tours of the trees of Little Friars  are offered to groups in return for a donation for the charity supported by the great naturalist, David Attenborough: 'Population Matters'.  These tours are in June and early July to fit around the ecological management of the site. Interested groups  can email to arrange a guided tour.

The Dendrologists Introductory a tree identification course for a minimum of 5 people can be arranged and groups with other environmental interests, can use this unique mix habitat. 

  The Bucks Tree Club has also run a conifer identification course here. The unique habitat also provides interests for visits for other natural   history societies too

Little Friars, the accidental arboretum Grid Ref SP945024