Dame Judi’s love affair with trees

VETERAN actress Judi Dench is full of surprises.

Last Christmas, one of the more unexpected revelations about the woman who played MI6 chief M in seven James Bond films spread over 20 years was the discovery of her lifelong love affair with trees, chronicled in a special BBC documentary screened shortly after her 83rd birthday.

JUDI DENCH

If you missed the programme’s original screening, there’s another chance this year to catch up with her one-hour tribute to all things aboreal, in the shape of Atlantic Productions’ documentary, Judi Dench: My Passion For Trees.

Much of the filming takes place in her own “backyard” in Surrey, but then this is no ordinary garden, but a six-acre memorial forest dedicated to loved ones in her life who have died.

“I started planting trees here with my actor husband Michael Williams,” she explains. “Every time a relative or friend died, we would plant a tree.”

In other words, this is quite an emotional journey. As Fiona Sturges summed up in her Guardian review in 2017: “Judi looks at trees in the same way that other people look at vintage sports cars or newborn babies: benevolent, indulgent, endlessly astonished.”

But for nature lovers this is a marriage made in heaven, with one of our most beloved national treasures expounding on a subject which has her wide-eyed in admiration.

Shakespeare (another of her great loves) features prominently as we stroll with Dame Judi through the beautiful woodland which surrounds her home and where she has planted trees to commemorate family members and actor friends who have passed away.

We uncover a civil war-era cannon ball found wedged into a 1,500-year-old yew tree, learn how beech trees use tannin to deter roe deer and find out how trees can even summon ladybirds to fight off invading aphids.

It’s an engaging journey and a delight to spend a little time “backstage” with a living legend, picking up a host of intriguing titbits about the secret life of trees along the way.

New year, new beginnings

IT WAS great to see the car parks full at Burnham Beeches for New Year’s Day, with dozens of local families starting the year with a breath of fresh air and a ramble through this extraordinary 540-acre nature reserve. 

IMG_0416It may get dark quite early, with the car parks closing at around 4.30pm, but the weather was dry and mild enough for youngsters to enjoy throwing leaves in the air and a small army of assorted canines to be rushing excitedly around the woodland paths.

More ambitious walkers can embark on a two-hour 8km history trail that provides a living history lesson about the ancient trees and monuments scattered around this landscape – including the 700-year-old Druids Oak and Iron Age hill fort.

Always a popular place for family walks, picnics and Sunday school outings, the reserve grew in popularity after 1880 when visitors from London could pick up a bus service from Slough station which stopped at tea rooms on the south western boundary of the site.

It seems odd to think of Victorian families enjoying the same sort of New Year’s Day ramble here more than a century ago – and perhaps even odder to ponder how many of the same trees they might have seen!

A downloadable map includes information about the reserve’s history and wildlife.