The UK’s oldest trees are living legends. National treasures. Bastions of life in a nature and climate crisis. But they’re disappearing from our landscapes. Despite some being over a thousand years old, ancient trees lack the protected status given to other important and threatened wildlife and built heritage. And not every ancient tree is being managed in a way that reduces threats and prolongs its life. Join our call to change that.

Quick fact

Our oldest yews are estimated to be more than 2,000 years old.

Our most important trees should have legally protected heritage status

All trees matter, but the older the tree, the more important it is for wildlife and for local people and communities too. Did you know an ancient oak can support over 2,300 species?

With their amazing history and value, you might expect these trees to be well protected by law. But these hugely important trees aren't automatically safeguarded.

As a society we protect what we value and we value what we protect. Well-established measures keep our most important wildlife, oldest buildings and other national treasures safe and rightly so. But right now the centuries old oak timbers in churches and grade-listed buildings have more protection than the oak trees that produced them. And some rare fungi that relies on ancient trees is much better protected than the trees themselves.

It’s time to change this. Legal protection for our oldest trees is long overdue.

Current measures are inadequate

Some rules and regulations value trees, but they don’t go far enough. Various policies encourage retention of trees in new developments. Some ancient trees happen to be located in legally protected wildlife sites, but most are outside these areas. Tree preservation orders can offer some help for trees under threat, but it’s a limited system - they aren’t granted for trees’ worth to wildlife, age or intrinsic value, only for ‘amenity value’ and where it’s ‘expedient’ to do so. That means a tree must be in an accessible local space and under threat. Our living legends deserve better.

Your stories

This inadequacy is heartbreakingly evident in your personal stories. Earlier this year, we asked about your experiences of defending local trees. Your stories all had two things in common: legendary trees at their heart - and the extraordinary struggle to keep them safe.

Maggie McKean, Shrewsbury, on the Darwin Oak, still threatened by proposals for the north-west relief road:

“During the pandemic I explored my local area, always with a sketchbook and painting kit. I wanted to see a significant tree known as the ‘Darwin Oak', reckoned to be 550 years old. A campaign to save this tree and others nearby from the threat of destruction was held in 2021 and somebody climbed the Darwin Oak to attach an English Heritage flag to the top. I was moved to see this amazing oak flying a flag on its crown alongside other majestic trees which will have stood through many interesting historical events over the last 500 years - including probable visits from Shrewsbury-born Charles Darwin himself. He would undoubtedly have been appalled by the proposed destruction of 'his tree' and our woodland heritage to make way for a road.”

Sandra Heard, Derby, on losing several mature trees to building works that development plans said would be retained:

“For me a tree is a most precious thing - it hosts much wildlife, cleans the air and balances water flows. Its casual destruction makes me upset that humans will never learn until we have destroyed our support system on this earth.”

It’s time to act

We need strong, consistent laws and policies that value and protect our oldest and most special trees. Farming, planning and nature recovery policies should all help farmers, developers and land managers to consistently retain, record and reduce threats to old and special trees.

Policies must aim to:

  • retain existing trees
  • provide space around tree roots and canopies
  • connect trees to the wider landscape.

Improving protection for living legends won’t happen overnight. But we must make the big and vital change to start truly valuing and conserving our most special trees. With the loss of each one, people, wildlife and the environment suffer.

Will you join us and ask governments across the UK to act?

Protecting trees and woods

Keep living legends alive

Most of our oldest trees are not legally protected. We're urging governments across the UK to change that. Add your voice to our call for improved protection laws. 

Sign our petition

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