Saving the Balfron Oak

First published: May 2013

Clachan Oak, the ancient sessile oak at the entrance to Balfron. Known locally as the Hanging Tree, it originally stood on the central green of the hamlet known as The Clachan, which later grew to become the village of Balfron. It was recorded in 1867 as being in a “flourishing condition”, and at that time was thought to be 330 years old and to have been struck by lightning 40 years before. Its short, squat trunk is now completely hollow, and held together by three iron hoops. But the hoops were not originally intended as an early form of tree surgery – they had a much more sinister purpose. Until the end of the 18th century it was common practice to chain petty criminals to the tree where they were subjected to merciless public ridicule. An iron collar was attached around the neck and connected by a length of chain to the iron hoop encircling the tree. This was known locally as “the jougs”. The practice apparently ended after one unfortunate woman was left forgotten, presumably while the husband visited the local pub, and died after falling and being strangled by the iron collar.” Source: Heritage Trees of Scotland, by Donald Rodger


The tree has shown a marked decline in vigour over the past few years and live shoot growth is now very sparse. The treatment carried out on Wednesday 24th May 2013 involved the injection of compressed air to a depth of 1m, which lifts the soil and opens it up to allow better penetration of oxygen and moisture into the rootzone. At the same time, a seaweed compound is injected through the probe, which spreads throughout the soil and this expands when it wets, helping to maintain the soil porosity. The video shows the soil lifting as each blast of air is released, and you can see the operator adding the seaweed from the orange bucket. This treatment should help to encourage new feeding roots to develop and will hopefully create a marked improvement in the overall health and vigour. As a further treatment, it is planned to remove the grass over a large part of the rootzone and replace this with a woodchip mulch. This has the effect of reducing moisture and nutrient competition from the grass, and also encourages the development of beneficial fungi which help the tree to absorb nutrients. Hopefully, the combination of treatments will allow the tree to survive for a good few years yet.