Ancient and veteran trees: What’s the difference?

You may have heard the terms ancient trees and veteran trees and wondered just what the speaker means. If you thought of an old tree you’re along the right lines.

The two phrases are sometimes used interchangeably, but there are some differences.

What is an ancient tree?

The older the tree the more valuable it becomes and ancient trees as very old trees are irreplaceable.

An ancient tree is one that has been allowed to grow old and with great age comes great habitats for wildlife. They will have developed lots of niches that wildlife will settle into - such as cavities for bats and birds, and decaying wood for invertebrates.

Ancient trees have passed maturity and are old in comparison with other trees of the same species. They will probably have a wide trunk, which will likely be hollow. And like humans trees shrink with age so they may have a small canopy.

This isn’t the end of the line for the ancient tree, even a dying tree may endure for decades.

Ancient trees will have a wide girth, a small canopy and probably a hollow trunk (Photo: WTML/Ted Green)
Ancient trees will have a wide girth, a small canopy and probably a hollow trunk (Photo: WTML/Ted Green)

What is a veteran tree?

Veteran trees are the survivors; they have the scars of age, but may be a young tree. In comparison with ancient trees they will have a relatively small girth.

They may have some of the features found on ancient trees such as decay, fungal fruiting bodies or dead wood. Unlike ancient trees these characteristics haven’t developed through age, they are the result of its life or environment.

All that decaying wood or fungi may not look pretty but it’s doing a brilliant job for wildlife, providing much needed niches for bats, birds and invertebrates.

 

Find incredible ancient and veteran trees

Ancient Tree Inventory

How can you tell the difference between ancient trees and veteran trees?

If you’re stood in front of a tree and you are blown away by the size of it, it looks really fat and old; the chances are you are stood by an ancient tree.

If you look at a tree and you can see scars or deadwood but it’s not that fat it’s probably a veteran. But don’t be caught out, some species like hawthorn or apple won’t get that fat even if they are ancient.

Veteran trees show the scars such as decaying wood (Photo: WTML/Jim Smith-Wright)
Veteran trees show the scars such as decaying wood (Photo: WTML/Jim Smith-Wright)

Why are ancient and veteran trees so important?

Growing ancient trees isn’t a fast process; it may take hundreds of years for the habitats which they provide to be created. Ancient trees provide niches for many rare and specialized fungi and animals so we must protect them.

With some of the characteristics of ancient trees, veteran trees are incredibly important too. They provide vital habitat for wildlife.

These trees may also have huge cultural value and may provide a link to historical moments or figures. Who can stand next to an ancient tree without wondering what it may have witnessed?

Look at the Ancient Tree Inventory maps to see the ancient and veteran trees in your area. If there’s a tree missing why not record it?