Ancient trees are irreplaceable. Centuries-old, they are incredibly special for their wildlife value, carbon-storing capacity and links to local stories and culture. Protecting these living legends is one of our top priorities. Discover how we build our approach to woodland design and management around them and what you can do to help keep them safe for the future.

Safeguarding our national treasures

We care for thousands of ancient and veteran trees dotted throughout our sites across the UK, from veteran hornbeam pollards at Hainault Forest and Coed Felenrhyd’s veteran rainforest oaks to ancient birch, rowan and alder across the hills of Glen Finglas. During management planning we make sure they are given special care and secured for the future.


ancient and veteran trees in our care

Quick fact

A veteran tree is not as old as an ancient tree but has some similar features which will develop further over time. Veteran trees are the ancient trees of the future.

Yonder Oak Wood: a new opportunity

Yonder Oak Wood in Devon was brought into our care in early 2022 thanks to help from our generous supporters. The site has huge potential for local people and wildlife. Set on the slopes of a scenic rural valley, it has areas of broadleaf woodland, several streams and a scattering of veteran trees which would once have been part of hedgerows criss-crossing the fields.

A veteran tree hotspot

The site sits on old farmland and is a treasure trove of veteran trees. Surveying these old and important trees was an essential first step when we acquired the wood. A comprehensive assessment found a tremendous 28 veteran oak, ash and field maple trees. This is a significant collection of important trees with huge value to local wildlife. We'll now carefully manage them to reduce the threats they face and give them every chance of living a long life.

Eight of the trees are pollarded boundary markers. Planted years ago to indicate where one landowner’s patch ended and another’s began, their branches were regularly cut to encourage dense regrowth. They are symbols of the rich heritage of the site and wider region.

Taking action to preserve trees under threat

Unfortunately, our assessment found that six of the trees are in a critical condition. Previous land use has damaged roots and compacted soil.

Giving our oldest trees room to grow old gracefully is key, so to give these six trees a fighting chance, we’ll create a buffer zone for each one that's at least 5 meters bigger than its crown. We won’t plant other trees, place heavy objects or park any vehicles beneath their boughs. Once these trees are given the space they need, they should start to recover.

Buffer zones are crucial to make sure trees have:

  • airy, healthy soil that’s free from compaction and pollution so roots can grow
  • all the light they need without being shaded out by sprightly younger generations
  • space to spread out and put down ‘crutches’ as they grow older.

The future

This collection of 28 living legends is at the heart of our plans for Yonder Oak Wood and, although some trees are in a critical condition, their future looks positive. We’ll care for them as they grow steadily older and check their health regularly as part of site management plans. They’re going to be crucial for helping nature return to the site, providing nooks and crannies for wildlife that younger trees will take centuries to develop.

We’ll manage other areas of the site in a way that enables these valuable trees to thrive, playing their vital role in the landscape alongside other types of habitat. The new woodland we plant will be carefully planned to make the most of these fantastic assets. Yonder Oak Wood is close to a number of nature reserves and should become a fantastic example of how caring for old trees and creating woodland can be part of a landscape scale approach to recovering nature.

Ancient trees need better protection

Not all ancient and veteran trees have such a bright future ahead. Most of them aren’t in protected woodlands or nature reserves. They’re scattered through our landscapes on farms, in hedges, parks and gardens, alongside roads and in remnants of wood pasture. Not everyone knows how important they are or how to manage them. Many are at risk.

Our old and important trees need better protection and care to thrive. Landowners need support to help care for these vital heritage assets as part of new land management schemes across the UK. And we need strong, consistent laws and policies that value and protect our oldest and most special trees.

You can help. Sign our petition calling for governments across the UK to protect and help care for living legends.

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

More ways to help ancient trees

Help protect ancient trees in your area by following our guidance for landowners, raising awareness of a tree at risk or helping us update tree records.