The hunt for ancient and veteran trees

The Ancient Tree Inventory (ATI) maps the distribution and condition of ancient and veteran trees across the UK. So far it holds more than 180,000 records, yet this may account for less than 10% of the nation's oldest trees.

Finding and mapping the UK's oldest and most precious trees is the first step in protecting them. New research is helping us build a more accurate picture of where ancient and veteran trees may still be unrecorded in England. With it we'll be able to identify ancient tree 'hotspots', giving our volunteers the tools they need to identify key areas for recording and find otherwise undiscovered trees. Better targeting efforts will play a vital role in recording and protecting ancient trees. 

I hope this research aids future targeted surveys of trees, speeding up their discovery and helping with their conservation and management.

Dr Victoria Nolan
The University of Nottingham

The research

With our support, Dr Victoria Nolan predicted the distribution of ancient and other noteworthy trees across the UK, in a 4-year PhD study at the University of Nottingham.

Victoria's research shows that there is a high chance of finding new trees in remote, inaccessible and seemingly uninteresting areas.

This research demonstrates that it is possible to visualise the true distribution of trees across England, with three key findings:

Volunteers Ian and Graeme inspecting trees

1. Models can accurately predict the distribution of trees

By using mathematical models, ATI data and independent field surveys it is possible to produce a more accurate picture of where ancient and veteran trees are.

Four sheep grazing in wood pasture at Coed Cymerau Isaf

2. Ancient trees are abundant in wood pastures in England

While identifying the key environmental factors that impact where ancient trees can be found, Victoria discovered that wood pastures may support an estimated 100,000 trees across England alone.

Ancient holly tree in New Forest

3. There's a richer population of ancient and veteran trees than first thought

The newly-developed scientific model predicts that there could be 2,000,000 ancient, veteran and notable trees across the whole of England.

What does this mean for the recording of trees?

  1. Insights into ancient and veteran tree hot spots can help focus our surveys, rapidly increasing the speed at which new trees can be found and added to the ATI.
  2. Predictors of ancient and veteran trees can guide us to critical locations, and help us assess the potential for ancient trees in our woods and partner organisations' woods.
  3. This modelling approach could make a stronger case for all unrecorded trees to be considered in policy and planning decisions.
  4. We now have an enhanced picture of how vast the UK's population of ancient and veteran trees could be. The prediction of 2,000,000 trees across England needs to be confirmed by upscaling our recording efforts and engaging more volunteers, professionals and partners with the ATI. 
Did you know?

Less than 10% of ancient and veteran trees have been recorded.

Why is it so important to find and record old trees?

Ancient and veteran trees are vital havens for wildlife, as well as important carbon stores. These valuable living legends are vulnerable and need legal protection.

The prediction of 2,000,000 ancient, veteran and notable trees highlights that the UK has an even richer population of ancient and veteran trees than first thought. This amazing number is also worrying, with many valuable trees going unrecorded and unprotected. This emphasises the need to find and record these trees for their protection and conservation.

Victoria's research provides vital evidence that will underpin our conservation work to protect ancient and veteran trees.

For the first time ever, it gives us a tool that can help us to identify areas where there is a greater chance of ancient and veteran trees being present. We are excited about how this work will help influence future recording to the ATI and bring greater protection to the UK's living legends. 

Explore our research

Need more information?

For information on the Ancient Tree Inventory please contact Tom Reed, citizen science officer at ancienttreeinventory@woodlandtrust.org.uk.

Contact our team for more information about our conservation research programme and grant funding, research@woodlandtrust.org.uk.