Protecting UK trees: oldest and important trees in UK

Some of the UK's oldest trees have been around for hundreds or even thousands of years. But just because you’re old it doesn’t mean you’re protected. That’s why we’re building an inventory which includes the most important trees in the UK. We use the Ancient Tree Inventory to fight for better protection for our valuable tree heritage.

The oldest

Yews are remarkable for their ability to renew themselves and continue to live and thrive for thousands of years. It’s unsurprising then that the oldest tree in the UK is a yew tree.

Sitting in St Cynog’s churchyard in Defynnog is a yew with a girth over 11m. Said to be 5,000 years old it’s believed to be the UK's oldest tree.

St Cynog's yew (Photo: Paul Wood)
St Cynog's yew (Photo: Paul Wood)

Fortingall yew

For a time the Fortingall yew was thought to be the oldest tree in the UK. It’s at least 2,000 years old but it’s hard to say just how old the tree really is. Best guesses place the tree between 2,000 and 3,000 years old with some estimates as high as 5,000.

In 1769 the girth was recorded as 17 metres. Although smaller now, it’s still thriving with new shoots growing.

Fortingall yew (Photo: WTML / Ed Parker)
Fortingall yew (Photo: WTML / Ed Parker)

Crowhurst yew

Believed to be as old as 4,000 years, this tree is famous for the wooden door that has been built into it. We don't know when the door was added, but it was after 1820 when villagers hollowed out the bole of the tree.

Whilst hollowing the tree they found a cannonball, which may have embedded itself in the tree in the 1600s.

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The Marton oak

The UK, and England especially, is abundant in old oak trees. Of these it’s hard to know which is the oldest but a good contender is the Marton Oak in Cheshire. With a girth of over 14 metres this huge tree is thought to be over 1,000 years old.

Other oaks around this age include the Major Oak, the Old Man of Calke and the Bowthorpe Oak.

The Preston twins

Until earlier this year the Preston twins in Brighton were the largest and oldest English elm trees in Europe. Unfortunately after some heavy winds just one tree now remains with the title.

It’s hoped the injured twin will grow back over the next 30 years or so.

At around 500 years old the twins have survived Dutch elm disease, which arrived here in 1967. Unlike other areas in Brighton the infected branches of elm trees were pruned out, allowing elm trees to survive.

More important trees

These are just some of the oldest trees we have, but there are lots more trees that are important to us. Ancient and veteran trees are important ecologically, but other trees are culturally valuable too.

The Ancient Tree Inventory has recorded 160,000 ancient, veteran and notable trees, but it’s not complete. Recording trees on the inventory is the first step towards better protection for these trees.

Is there a tree which is important to you?

Help protect our valuable ancient trees.

View the inventory and add new entries