Celebrating a 70 year tree record

Jean Combes OBE is an inspirational Nature’s Calendar recorder, and I felt very honoured to meet her this month as I visited Ashtead in Surrey, Jean’s home town, to plant a tree to celebrate her 90th birthday and impressive 70 year oak budburst record!

Jean's 70 years of phenology

Jean started recording tree timings (phenology) when she was 20 years old and has continued to record the dates of budburst and first leaf on local trees ever since. Her oak tree records have proved to be particularly valuable, and have been used by scientists, government departments and research organisations interested in the impact of a changing climate on trees and wildlife.

Jean was awarded an OBE in 2009 for her services to phenology but, having recently celebrated her 90th birthday, Jean’s tree record is now a remarkable 70 years long. To celebrate, we decided to plant an oak tree in Ashtead to celebrate.

Jean’s records show an overall advance in leafing dates over the last half-century

Planting the Combes' Oak in celebration

Ashtead Cricket Club very kindly hosted the tree planting event, and allowed us to plant the tree in their grounds, where it will be well looked after into the future.

Jean adds the first handful of soil to a newly planted oak (Photo: K Tuck)

Jean added the first handful of soil, and was followed by family, friends, her deputy tree recorder and Professor Tim Sparks (founder of Nature’s Calendar). Ashtead tree wardens oversaw the planting and made sure that the tree got a good start in its new home. We’ve called the tree the Combes’ Oak.

Whilst in Ashtead, I couldn’t turn down the opportunity to visit the oak that Jean has recorded for so many years. It’s an impressive tree in a residential area; the trunk is about two hugs in diameter! It’s recently been added to the Ancient Tree Inventory as the Calendar Oak.

If you’ve been inspired by Jean’s story, don’t forget to keep an eye out for budburst and first leaf on trees in your area this year. When you add your records to the Nature’s Calendar website they go straight into the UK phenology database alongside Jean's records and many others. So how many years long is your tree record?

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Me and Professor Tim Sparks measuring the Calendar Oak (Photo: S Stout)