Why do we need a national tree register?

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.

A national tree register will recognise, celebrate and protect the UK's Trees of National Special Interest for the rest of their days. It will also help owners of these special trees (like local authorities and private landowners) access support, such as specialist advice and grants, so trees can be cared for as they become even older and grander with age.

Don't we already have national lists of trees?

We need a national register of trees which stand out as being of such value that they should be recognised for their contribution to national life.

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.

Not all of the trees recorded on these databases would be considered of national importance. 

Which trees would be included on a national register?

With the Ancient Tree Forum, we have established a set of suggested criteria for a national tree register. We understand the capacity and resource pressures faced by governments. We will supply this criteria to the key minister in each country, along with the data currently held on the Ancient Tree Inventory, to help create each register.

Which Trees of National Special Interest should be included:

  • 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 of Special Interest should not be included:

  • 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.

Show your support for a national tree register

Help us celebrate these natural wonders and protect them from harm for the rest of their days.

Planning and forestry are devolved matters across the UK so there needs to be a list or register in each nation.

Click on your country below to help the Very Important Trees where you live.


Northern Ireland



In partnership with Country Living magazine.

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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.

Support a national tree register