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What are ancient trees?

An ancient tree is in its third or final stage of life.

Ancient trees of different species age in different ways. The oldest trees, such as yews, oaks and sweet chestnuts have very long ancient stages sometimes more than 1000 years long. Other types of tree live shorter lives and have short ancient phases eg birch or willows. 

A veteran tree is usually in its second or mature stage of its life. Veteran trees get their name from signs of premature aging. They may have started hollowing and have patches of decay, broken branches or flaking bark that provide holes, cavities and crevices in the trunk and large limbs which are especially important for roosting and nesting bats and birds.

Notable trees are large trees without veteran features that are locally important visually or may have a personal significance to the individual recorder. This includes specimen trees or those that are important as the next generation of veteran trees.

Where can I find ancient trees?

Ancient trees are found in their greatest numbers in the remnants of mediaeval Royal hunting forests such as the New Forest, Sherwood Forest or Windsor Great Park and Forest or in medieval deer parks.

They are not often found in ancient woodland because of past traditional management of small woods for timber and wood production.

Sometimes groups of ancient trees, especially pollards (trees cut at about 2m for wood, leaf and seed or fruit production) can  be found in historic wood pastures, ancient wooded commons and historic hedgerows. Individual ancient trees in urban areas can be found marooned in the midst of housing estates and urban parks, on village greens, in churchyards and adjacent to old historic buildings.

Are ancient and veteran trees at risk?

Ancient and veteran trees are survivors but they still face immense challenges from intensive farming and forestry, urban development and lack of understanding and care. Old trees are not automatically 'protected' and can therefore be cut or felled by an owner at any time. We are fortunate to have so many owners in the UK that recognise the value that their trees bring to our landscapes but in some circumstances a tree that is threatened may need to be given a Tree Preservation Order. 

Do we need to care for ancient trees?

Many ancient trees have been managed or 'worked' in their long lives or have been cared for so they haven't been badly damaged. When managing valuable trees it is important to think not just about the tree and its roots, but also about the management of the land surrounding it. To get the management right, it is helpful to know as much about the tree and its historical background, the site and its status as possible.

The Woodland Trust and the Ancient Tree Forum have produced a handbook Ancient and other Veteran Trees: further guidance on management and a range of guidance notes for those who care for ancient trees called Ancient Tree Guides.

Our partners

The Woodland Trust works closely with the Tree Register of the British Isles and the Ancient Tree Forum in our ancient tree work.

To find ancient trees near you, record one that is missing or search for the largest or oldest trees in any part of the UK visit our Ancient Tree Hunt website.