The LTOA recently visited San Sebastian and the surrounding Basque country for a fantastic jam-packed two-day tour in collaboration with Juan Pagola, Viverospagola (

The purpose of the trip was to see notable and historic trees within the parks of San Sebastian and ancient trees in the surrounding area. The 18 strong group consisted of tree officers, tree contractors, and consultants, some with their partners.

Juan’s company is a family business involved in horticulture and arboriculture since 1898, and the company has been working for the San Sebastian authority for some 40 years.

San Sebastian is the capital city of the province of Gipuzkoa (707.298 inhabitants) a historical territory of the autonomous community of the Basque Country.

San Sebastian has a population of approximately 186,000 with 36,000 park and street trees recorded on Juan’s database. Juan explained that the climate in the Basque country was more like Scotland rather than the hot climate that most people associate with Spain. The weather is influenced by the Bay of Biscay and can often be cloudy and cool, with significant levels of rainfall in both summer and winter. The weather conditions encourage rapid growth which results in large specimen trees. Leaf retention on deciduous trees for 10 months of the year is normal.

Day 1 started with the group meeting at the parks & gardens of Aiete parkea, established in 1878. The park contained many specimen trees such as a 22m Ginkgo, planted when the park was established. One of the large 20m plus Tulip trees had significant damage from a 30-year-old lighting strike. The park’s 40m Sweet Gum was very impressive. So far Chalara Dieback of Ash has not been found in the San Sebastian area, but Plane trees do suffer from Massaria.

After a relaxing lunch in the park’s restaurant, the group headed for the Plaza Guipuzcoa in the centre of San Sebastian old town. A relatively small open space established in 1880 and was landscaped in a French style. Amongst other specimen trees and palms there was a fine specimen of a European Palm. The last tree we saw was a magnificent 120-year-old Cedar in the park of Kristina Enea.

Juan explained that the city after losing large numbers of Elm trees to Dutch Elm disease 30 to 40 years ago, his father and city parks officials ensured species diversity during the replanting process. By chance, rather than design, San Sebastian now has tree diversity in line Santamour’s rule of no more than 10% any one species, 20% any one genus & 30% any family.  The streets and sea frontage areas around the bay area were dominated by Tamarix due to their salt tolerance, and they are pollarded on an annual basis due to their rapid growth. Some of the Tamarix trees were 120 years old. Other street trees included Plane, Lime, Ligustrum, Birch, Liquidambar, Ginkgo and the non-fruiting Mulberry. The day concluded by visiting the Miramar Palace, former home of the Queen of Spain, and the view over the bay area.

Day 2, the LTOA delegation first travelled to the village of Hernani where Juan took us to see a 200-year-old Ginkgo situated in the grounds of a community centre.

The Ginkgo is afforded protection under Basque government law. Juan talked about an incident when he managed to stop significant damage being done to the root system of the tree during excavation works due it being protected. He also explained that there is no Spanish national standard for protecting trees in relation to construction like BS5837:2012, but he tries to work to BS5837 with some difficulty at times when working with municipality officers and other professionals in his day to day work.

The growths on the main trunk of the Ginkgo, around the lower crown, are called ‘chi chi’ and are often produced in response to disturbances such as soil erosion, crown damage and or great age.

The group then travelled to see two ancient English Oak trees near Jauntsarats and Orkin. The Oak at Jauntsarats had a DBH of over 9m and was thought to be well over 1,000 years old. The second Oak at Orkin was equally as impressive with a DBH of 12m. Again, both trees are protected under Navarra government law.

After a splendid picnic lunch in a local village square, the afternoon was spent visiting an ancient lapsed pollard Beech woodland on a high plateau, at Urbasa – Limitaciones. The wood from the pollarded trees was used for fuel for the local iron industry, the ancient lapsed pollards are a fantastic habitat for wildlife and fungi. The afternoon was complete when we drove to an area that had panoramic views and we watched vultures soaring on the warm air thermals.

The following weekend was a Bank Holiday with St. John's Day Eve celebrating the summer solstice on the Saturday evening, and St John’s Day on 24th June. For those who stayed on in San Sebastian we saw small Ash trees and Ash bonfires being erected to be lit as part of the celebrations.

Although the field trip was only two days, it gave the group an in depth insight into the variety of valuable and historic trees in San Sebastian and the amazing surrounding countryside. We would like to thank the LTOA for arranging to trip, but most of all our thanks go to Juan and his two colleagues Ion Gimeno Mugica and Asier Izaguirre Pasaban, for such a warm welcome and giving their valuable time to show us some magnificent trees in the Basque country.


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