Work has begun to fell the Scottish oak trees being used to ensure traditional methods are maintained for renovations to Nelson’s flagship HMS Victory.
Three Scottish estates have donated ten oaks and 11 elms towards the 15-year conservation project on the world’s oldest commissioned warship, which is berthed at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard in Hampshire.
HMS Victory, which carried Admiral Lord Nelson for his greatest and final battle against the French and Spanish navies at Trafalgar in 1805, was built 250 years ago from more than 5,500 oak trees and the ship inspired the Royal Navy’s anthem march Hearts Of Oak.
Now the Aberdeenshire estates of Dunecht, Haddo and MacRobert Trust have donated timber to continue the tradition as Victory, which was launched in 1767, enters its 250th year.
Workers at the Dunecht Estate, have begun to fell the ten oaks and four elms which owner Charles Pearson donated. Lord Aberdeen of the Haddo Estate has also donated five elms and Rear Admiral Christopher Hockley of the MacRobert Trust Estate on Royal Deeside has donated two. Andrew Baines, head of historic ships at the National Museum of the Royal Navy (NMRN), said recent research on Victory has shown oak was best for its future conservation.
He said: “Currently the ship comprises a variety of hardwoods from years of maintenance.
“The return to oak is much welcomed. It demonstrates the serious archaeological research we are undertaking about the ship’s composition, from timber to paint analysis and our commitment to ensure she remains sustainable for centuries to come.
“We understand that some 30 per cent of the fleet at the Battle of Trafalgar hailed from Scotland so it feels entirely appropriate that timber from these estates should be playing such a big part in her future security.”
The elm is being used for the ship’s structure below the waterline where it will be used for the keel which is one of the oldest surviving parts of the ship and remains exposed in the dry dock. Mr Baines said: “The quantity of elm donated by all three estates will serve as an important resource for this area in the future.
“Those elms which may not be suited to the particular size and shape of the keel can be made into new gun-carriages.”
Felling of the trees has been delayed by poor weather and flooding but once felled the timber will be transported to the Whitney sawmill in Hereford where it will be cut for use on the ship. The oak is likely to become planking and the elm is to remain in blocks for the keel.
A NMRN spokeswoman said: “The timber will then be transferred to Portsmouth where it will be seasoned.
“This could take four years. The longer the oak is seasoned, the stronger it becomes. The oak planking will go into dry storage.”