Two historic conker trees at Crathes Castle have been infected by a harmful fungus and will be chopped down at the start of next week.
The National Trust for Scotland’s expert forestry team from the Mar Lodge Estate will be showcasing their skills in a more public location next week as they are being drafted in to help take down the two large horse chestnut trees close to the castle on the estate.
The giants, which are beloved by visitors, staff and volunteers and have furnished in part thanks to their abundant conker production, have been affected by a harmful species of honey fungus called Armillaria.
This fungus appears as black bootlaces or ‘rhizomorphs’ - thick travelling root-like fungal structures can be seen where the bark has fallen off the tree trunk.
Trust ranger Toni Watt said: “The rhizomorphs are strangely beautiful in their own right, forming a geometric pattern all the way up the trunk, but it does mean the tree is totally infected by the fungus and evidence is seen in the root buttresses which are wet and soggy and rotting badly.
“All of this means that the trees are in a bad way and need to be felled.”
Trust rangers completed a high-level survey of the trees to ensure that there were no bats roosting, so that work can start on Monday.
The Mar Lodge team are now ready to start felling the 20m tall trees, which are thought to be more than 200 years old. Because of their height, this will be an involved process, starting at the top of the trees, and working their way down.
James Henderson, Crathes Castle property manager, said: “Of course, it is very sad to see these old friends go. They have been at Crathes for so many years.
“However, it is a great opportunity to showcase the amazing skills of the Trust’s talented forestry staff to our visitors.
“This should make for a really interesting insight into their work which usually takes place deep in the Mar Lodge Estate.”
Once the trees have been felled, the wood will be used for a variety of purposes – some to will go to Mar Lodge for use in its biomass boiler, some will be kept for use by local tenants, and some will be passed to the Grampian Woodturners so that it can be transformed into beautiful new artworks.
James continued: “We have to let the ground lie fallow for a year to make sure that the fungus has gone, and after that, we plan to plant replacements so that we can keep our visitors in conkers for the next century.”
Crathes Castle garden and estate is owned and cared for by the National Trust for Scotland, the charity that conserves and promotes Scotland’s heritage.
The enchanting 16th-century tower house is surrounded by 240 hectares of formal gardens, woodland walks and rolling Scottish countryside, which are a haven for wildlife and are home to red squirrels, roe deer and pine martens.