On a recent visit to see the Cubbington pear tree, Anne Langley was sad to see that the woods around it in Warwickshire had been blocked off to visitors and a sign erected warning against trespassing. “It’s tragic,” she says. “There were people patrolling the fence when I went, to keep people out.”
The wild tree on the outskirts of South Cubbington wood is a famous local landmark and was voted England’s tree of the year in 2015. Langley, 77, decided to visit after she heard about the accolade so that she could write about it for a Warwickshire community website. When she did, she was struck by its “astonishing” size. “I was walking up the footpath and there on the horizon was this tree, standing out from the edge of the woods,” she says. “It dominates the view.”
It is thought to be the second-largest wild pear tree in the country and estimated to be 250 years old. It still bears fruit every year. In the spring, Langley loves seeing the “blackcaps and chiffchaffs singing in the woods”, with “wood anemones and a carpet of bluebells” surrounding it. Despite its popularity, it is scheduled to be cut down to make way for the HS2 railway development. Once completed, the new line will link London, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds.
Langley, who is retired and lives near Rugby, is devastated by the plans, which will destroy much of the ancient woodland. “It’s upsetting,” she says. “It’s the loss of something irreplaceable.”
Until the area was closed off, Cubbington Action Group, which was set up to protest against HS2, had been leading walks to show people the tree. Students from Shuttleworth College in Bedfordshire have taken cuttings from it, so that descendants can be created for the local churchyard, schools and villages.
Save Cubbington Wood, another protest group, set up a camp last September in an effort to protect the trees from being felled by contractors, but they were evicted in March. An HS2 spokesperson told the BBC: “Seven million new trees and shrubs will be planted as part of the HS2 programme. The new native woodlands will cover over 9 sq km of land.”
Felling was stopped temporarily because of the coronavirus pandemic, but it is due to resume in September. “Sadly, the pear tree appears to be doomed,” says Langley. Nonetheless, she still hopes it will be saved. “To think that it stood there for 250 years, against all the odds. You could imagine when it was little that somebody might have thought: ‘Oh, I’ll dig that up and put it in my back garden.’ The fact that it endured so long … It’s a symbol of hope for the future.”