Why do V.I.Trees need better protection?

Gloriously gnarled and knobbly, this impressive ancient beech tree is a living relic of incredible age (Photo: K Leslie/WTML)

Unlike historical buildings, some of our oldest living monuments can lack real protection and their value to the nation is not officially recognised.

Trees of National Special Interest are undervalued and face many risks:

  • They are not mapped across the landscape in the same way that ancient woodland is mapped, meaning they are all but invisible until it's too late.
  • As older trees age they may require specialist care which can be costly. This makes them particularly vulnerable to poor management and neglect.
  • While Tree Preservation Orders protect remarkable trees through the planning system, this tends to be a reactive rather than a proactive way to safeguard them from development. Planning permission overrides a TPO in all cases. 

The UK's Trees of National Special Interest should be recognised and protected for the rest of their days. Owners of these special trees (like local authorities and private landowners) may also need to access specialist advice and grants so V.I.Trees can be cared for as they become even older and grander with age.

The Ancient Tree Inventory

Through the Ancient Tree Hunt and the Tree Register of the British Isles, quality data on significant trees has been collected through citizen science. These inventories are extremely valuable, recording different aspects of interest:

  • The Tree Register holds information on champion (by girth and height) and other special trees - rarities and species that have been brought into the UK from abroad.
  • The Ancient Tree Inventory (aka the Ancient Tree Hunt) holds data on ancient, veteran and other notable trees. Over 75% of the records on this database are used to evaluate sites of high value, national importance according to the JNCC veteran tree site assessment protocol demonstrating the significance of the records.

With the Ancient Tree Forum, we have established a set of suggested criteria for Trees of National Special Interest.

What are Trees of National Special Interest?

  • An ancient tree of a native or European species. For example an ancient yew or oak such as the Fortingall Yew or Bowthorpe Oak. (This will include all champions by girth of native European species.)
  • A collection or concentration of ancient, veteran and notable trees that achieve a high status qualification on the JNCC veteran tree site assessment protocol (by definition this would include a group of at least 115 trees).
  • Heritage trees associated with particular historic occasions or people of national importance. For example the Tolpuddle Martyrs' Sycamore, the Boscobel Oak, or the oak at the Gate of the Dead in Wales.
  • The largest and/or oldest representative of a rare native (eg whitty pear) or original cultivar (eg Bramley Apple tree).
  • Special individuals or groups of historic or culturally managed trees, such as pollard or coppice. For example the Burnham Beeches pollards.
  • Distinct small groups of special trees such as an historic avenue, or very prominent landscape features. For example the Llanfyllin Lonely Tree, the Meikalour Beech Hedge, or a massive multi-layered tree such as the Scone Lime, Leighton.

Which trees are not Trees of National Special Interest?

  • Champion trees for their height. Primarily because this can change frequently and because it could involve many non-native trees.
  • Ancient or champion non-European trees.

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Celebrate and protect our Very Important Trees

Ancient oak tree (Ancient Tree Hunt website)

Our oldest and most important trees have little recognition or protection. Help us ensure these living monuments are not lost forever.

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