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Veteran and Ancient Trees

Posted: Monday 15th April 2019 by Twheatear

Measuring a veteran tree

Not just your average trees...

As well as their general value for wildlife, woodlands can provide added value in the form of veteran or ancient trees. These are trees that have passed their prime but, for some species such as oak and yew, may live on for hundreds more years. During this long decline, they develop holes, dead or hollow branches or trunks, providing a much wider variety of habitats for wildlife, from fungi to bats. Last weekend we took time off from our usual active management of Strawberry Cottage Wood to search for any of these wildlife hotspots in the company of Doug Lloyd of GWT.

Nearly all woods in the UK have been replanted at some time in the past two centuries, so these trees haven’t yet reached the veteran or ancient stage. Older trees are more likely to be found in internal or external boundaries, where their function as markers or sources of a particular product saved them from being cut during past woodland management. Just inside our wood there are examples of both: a yew tree that may qualify as a veteran, and a pear - covered in blossom - that is definitely ancient. These two show that veteran status isn’t about reaching a fixed age - the yew is likely to be significantly older in years than the pear - but depends on species and relates to their value as wildlife habitats.

Historic maps can also give clues to the location of veteran or ancient trees. The first series Ordnance Survey maps show a wedge of trees at the top of our wood that are still there, a hundred and twenty years later. Here we found an ancient birch - very different in form from its younger cousins inside the wood - as well as veteran oak and ash.

The Woodland Trust’s inventory of ancient trees is at

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