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Ancient Tree Management

Why do we need to manage ancient trees?

Ancient trees are a precious part of our heritage that need care and attention in order to survive into the future.

The reasons for managing ancient trees have changed over the centuries. In the past, prior to the 18th century, all ancient trees would have worked for a living, providing our ancestors with firewood for their homes, fodder and shelter for livestock, timber for buildings and ships.

Later, in the 18th and 19th centuries, trees were managed by wealthy landowners in order to create pleasant places for recreation, walking, picnics and exercise.

While trees are still heavily regarded for recreation areas, the need for small-scale woods for timber has now declined. Therefore, ancient trees today tend to be managed for their cultural and archaeological interest, as well as for the habitat benefits they provide to wildlife.

The main reasons for managing ancient trees today are to -

  • protect them from the current threats
  • prevent an ancient tree from collapsing prematurely
  • provide continuity of habitats for wildlife
  • keep individual trees alive for as long as possible, to enable a new generation to replace the older ones
  • maintain traditional practises and continuity within landscapes
  • perpetuate aesthetic values, such as characteristic landscape features
  • secure the future of historic or landmark trees
  • fulfil safety requirements

Active management may not involve actually doing much. Trees will need to be checked regularly but management should only be carried out where necessary.

An ancient tree may need assessing as an individual. Techniques that work well on one individual or group of trees, will not necessarily work on others, due to their unique responses to specific environmental conditions.

When managing ancient trees it is important to think not just about the tree, but also about the management of the land surrounding it. It is helpful to know as much about the tree and its historical background, the site and its status, to inform the management process.

The Woodland Trust and the Ancient Tree Forum have produced a range of guidance notes for those who care for ancient trees called Ancient Tree Guides.

The Veteran Trees Initiative has also produced a range of excellent publications aimed at those involved in the management of ancient trees, including the excellent handbook Veteran Trees – a guide to good management which outlines best practice.

The 1000 year old yew tree at Crum. Photo: J Attenborough