Britain's Oldest Trees Are Becoming Endangered Species

ancient trees photo

Image from the Guardian

Who knows if the British were the first treehuggers but they certainly have a lot of them: there are over 100,000 ancient trees in the country. Seventy percent of all of the oldest trees in Europe are in the UK, and many of them are in trouble.

The Ancient Tree Hunt is a five-year project led by the Woodland Trust, which is recording every ancient tree in Britain. So far they have logged 38,000 ancient trees through the work of ecologists and ordinary members of the public.

ancient tree photo

Image from Ancient Tree Hunt: Maryculter House Sweet Chestnut

Ancient trees are defined as those that are unusually old for its species. So an oak tree that is 600 years old is classified as ancient and a beech that is over 300 years old is also called ancient. Birches, even more short lived, are old at two centuries.

Of special interest (!) to readers of this blog is the informal measurement used. It's called "hugs".

"A hug is based on the finger tip to finger tip measurement of an adult, which is about 1.5m. This distance is usually almost the same as your height, and means you can measure a tree even if you forget your tape measure! The trees below might be ancient if they measured the following:

Oak - 3 adult hugs
Beech - 2 adult hugs
Scots Pine- 1 adult hug
Rowan - one adult hug
Birch - a wrist hugmeasure"

These trees are ecological treasures that have a history and presence; they are a part of our heritage. They also serve important functions in the ecology of the forest--providing special habitats for rare plants, insects, birds and mammals.

Three-quarters of the UK's 17 species of bat are known to roost in them. Some plant species can only survive on ancient trees; certain rare lichens only grow on their bark.

But they are endangered and once they are gone, they are gone. Farmers plough too close to them, or use fertilisers and pesticides that affect them, animals graze too intensively, or their defecations poison the trees, footpaths can compress the roots, and trees are knocked down.

darley oak. photo

Image from webshots news: the Darley Oak

The Woodland Trust is asking the public to discover and record the thousands of ancient trees scattered across the countryside. They want to develop a comprehensive map of the trees so that they can monitor threats to them and plan how to best conserve them. The goal of the project is to record at least 100,000 ancient trees throughout the UK by 2011.

Related Content on