As a standalone subject, the sweet chestnut has to be one of the most photogenic trees you could wish for. It is truly magnificent, a tree I enjoy enormously and love photographing, yet I do not count it as one of my absolute favourites. This is perhaps down to the fact that it is in its element in more cultured parkland, rather than in the wilder woodland locations I so relish, where a relative lack of space and light prevents it from growing into the massive and mature specimen it can become. A girth of 40 feet and a height of 100 feet are not unknown!
The sweet chestnut (Castanea sativa) is only distantly related to the horse chestnut tree, although neither are natives of the UK. Also known as the Spanish chestnut and marron, it is thought to have been introduced into Britain by the Romans in the first century AD. The oft-repeated scene from Monty Python’s Life of Brian – “what have the Romans ever done for us?” – comes to mind! They certainly brought a tree that graces our landscape and, along with the larch and sycamore, has been one of our most successful colonisers.
It is thought the Romans included coppice rotation within their woodland management routines, so the faster growing rate of the impressive sweet chestnut compared to, say, our native oak would have made it an attractive alternative. In addition, its nuts, and the flour made from them, formed part of the Roman diet. The cooler UK climate does now tend to mean that...