Ancient trees

The ancient ash tree near Park Wood, image courtesy of the Woodland Trust

One of the great joys of spring is seeing trees leaf out and bloom. They bring so much joy, and do so much for us, and yet are rarely valued as they should be. In particular, ancient trees are wondrous, magical things. Impressive and complex structures, they have lots of nooks and crannies in which wildlife can find a home. As fungi feed on the tree they provide food for woodland creatures, and a hollowed out trunk provides shelter. Although ancient trees are in the final stage of their life, and technically in decline, they have a lot to give, and can go on living for a long time, depending on the species.

Experts believe the Fortingall Yew in Perthshire, Scotland is between 2,000 and 3,000 years, although there are some suggestions it could be ever older – perhaps as much as 5,000 years old. Many ancient trees are found remnants of royal hunting forests, and ancient wood pasture, hedges and parkland, but others are individual trees in the midst of urban parks, housing estates, churchyards and farms.

More than 120,000 individual ancient, veteran and notable trees have been recorded in the UK. Veteran trees are somewhat younger than ancient ones; they need to be protected to become the ancient trees of the future. These trees are survivors, but they face immense challenges from intensive farming and forestry, urban development and a lack of suitable care. Old trees are not automatically ‘protected’ and can therefore be cut or felled by an owner at any time.

Weak planning policy has allowed England to lose huge chunks of ancient woodland to unnecessary development, including car parks, holiday lodges, golf courses and paintball centres.

Fortunately, the new wording for the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) shows Government is, at last, prepared to take action.However, the same proposals that will increase protection for ancient woods will downgrade the status ancient and veteran trees, which could make them even more vulnerable in future.

The Woodland Trust is concerned that the new wording suggests that aged and veteran trees outside of woodlands are not irreplaceable habitats. They’re campaigning to ensure that policy wording and related commentary around “irreplaceable habitats” should include both ancient woodland and aged and veteran trees. They’re encouraging us to join in a consultation to show the government how many of use agree that this ancient and venerable trees need and deserve our protection. Nearly 6,500 people have responded so far; they’re hoping to reach 10,000 before it closes on 10th May 2018.

It only takes a few minutes, so please take a look and lend your voice to these special ancient trees, who have no way to speak for themselves.

The oak at Boom Hall, image courtesy of the Woodland Trust