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What are ancient trees?

What are ancient trees?

What is an ancient tree?

An ancient tree is one that makes you go ‘wow, it’s huge, fatter than any other tree like that round here’. It will be really fat, but probably not that tall, as like old people they shrink down with age. Like people, trees grow and age at different rates depending on where they are and what happens to them during their lifetime.

‘The man of science and of taste will…. discover the beauties in a tree, which the others would condemn for its decay…’
Humphry Repton, landscape gardener, 1803.

Ancient trees are living relics of incredible age that inspire in us feelings of awe and mystery. They also support wildlife that cannot live anywhere else. Over the centuries, they have inspired artists, writers, poets and scientists and are mentioned in sacred texts.

'those grey, gnarled, low browed, knock kneed, bent, huge, strange, long armed, deformed, hunchbacked, misshapen oak men that stand awaiting and watching century after century.’
Frances Kilvert on ancient trees at Moccas Park, 1876

Some ancient trees are instantly recognisable, others are less obvious.

The term ‘ancient tree’ encompasses:

• Trees of interest biologically, aesthetically or culturally because of their great age

• Trees in the ancient or third and final stage of their life

• Trees that are the old relative to others of the same species

What are veteran and notable trees?

A 'veteran tree' is usually in the second or mature stage of its life and has important wildlife and habitat features including; hollowing or associated decay fungi, holes, wounds and large dead branches. It will generally include old trees but also younger, middle aged trees where premature aging characteristics are present.

A tree of local importance, or of personal significance to the individual recorder is called a ‘notable tree’. This includes specimen trees or those considered to be potential, next generation veteran trees.

For more information, see how to recognise ancient trees

Ancient Tree

Ancient Trees in Scotland. Photo: Jon Parsons