Mission to Save Britain's Ancient Trees

Special branch: how you can help add to the inventory that is being compiled to preserve the UK’s ancient, notable giants.

There's something remarkably spiritual about walking in a wood. Whether it’s in spring, when they are filled with bluebells, wild garlic and twittering birdsong, during the cold, winter months, when the silhouetted trees look majestic against a wintry sky, it’s an uplifting experience. One that is elusive for many of us at present; but soon, we all hope, that will change.


For more than 15 years, the Woodland Trust has been working with the Tree Register and Ancient Tree Forum to build a database of irreplaceable vulnerable trees, called the Ancient Tree Inventory. The trees fall into three categories; ancient, veteran and notable. Ancient trees are the oldest, veterans are younger but will have some of the characteristics you would expect to find on older trees, while notable trees aren’t necessarily old, but are nonetheless significant in a local area.


While ecologists, conservationists and archaeologists rely on this database for their research, it is also the first port of call for planners and developers to identify the most important trees. As the Woodland Trust points out, “ancient trees are as much a part of our heritage as stately homes, cathedrals and works of art”. But they don’t get the same protection. There is no equivalent to Scheduled Ancient Monument status for trees, which important archaeological sites benefit from.


Since the inventory began, more than 175,000 trees have been added to the map, but large ancient trees are still being found regularly. The Woodland Trust believes they are “by no means anywhere near completion”, and hope members of the public will continue to help locate more trees.


To record a tree, use the online form at at ati.woodlandtrust.org.uk. Try to describe as much as you can about the tree, its distinguishing features and surroundings. A GPS reference is ideal and, if possible, a photograph will also help identify the tree and its location. A team of more than a hundred knowledgeable and enthusiastic volunteers will check and verify each record.


A little fact to conclude: the Ankerwycke Yew, in Runnymede, is thought to be the National Trust’s oldest tree at 2,500 years old, and is said to have been witness to the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215, and Henry VIII’s efforts to woo Anne Boleyn.

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