Coppicing allowed light to fall on the forest floor which encouraged germination and new growth. The multi-trunked oaks at Cadzow are evidence of coppicing long, long ago. An important consequence of this act of decapitation was to confer virtual immortality upon the severed stump. A coppiced tree lives for much longer than a maiden tree, almost forever, forever when compared to human lives.
Dendrochronology (tree ring analysis) has dated many of the trees to c1460, at the time the oaks were enclosed in a park, however the oldest of them may well date to the reign of David 1 (1124-1153) which would make the Cadzow oaks the oldest living trees in Scotland.
These veteran trees have had the space to grow and develop their own extraordinary contorted shapes. Many of the trees are what is known as stag headed with bleached dead branches sticking out from the living crowns. This is a characteristic of veteran oaks and is one of the tree's survival mechanisms. As the trunks begin to age, the outer branches die back to conserve the tree's resources, it then forms a newer crown lower down.
One of the defining characteristics of woodland pasture is that the trees are spaced out from each other, standing in open grass land, cropped by deer, wild boar and aurochs and later by cattle, sheep and pigs. Trees growing in an open savannah is a landscape that has always been loved by people and stirs something deep within the human psyche. Perhaps we recognize our original forest home. A place to get lost in, a place to hide in. And as Chateaubriand observed, 'forests were the first temples of God.'
The Cadzow oaks were once a part of one of the royal forests established by David 1 (1124-1153). Before his reign, land tenure in Scotland was still based on the old Celtic and Norse traditions. David 1 systematically introduced the (alien) feudal system into Scotland in which sovereignty is vested in the Crown. He created the first burghs, founded monasteries, established sheriffs jurisdictions and granted feudal charters to the Norman knights and those Scots who supported him. Royal forests including Cadzow were established where henceforth no one could hunt without the monarch's permission.
In the mid 19th Century the woodland landscape of Cadzow inspired the Cadzow artists a group of landscape painters. The Cadzow oaks passed into the care of to the state in 1973, in lieu of death duties after the death of the 14th Duke of Hamilton, and now form part of the Chatelherault Country Park