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"I want to find a 10m tree in Cornwall, my colleagues don't hold out much hope!"

Tim Kellett is the Ancient Tree Hunt's lead verifier in the South West. Here he describes how he got involved in tree recording and some of his favourite finds:

I have been interested in trees and woodlands as long as I can remember. But it was only when I read Meetings with Remarkable Trees by Thomas Pakenham that I recognised that old trees were something special.

I had no training or background in arboriculture or the natural environment - I am an architect and urban designer in my day job - so I didn't really think that I had much to offer.

But in early 2009 I was invited to a verifiers course by Dr Loveday Jenkin who was the project officer for the Great Trees of Cornwall, which was set up to record important trees in the county, and was funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. Katherine Owen ran the course at the National Trust's Lanhydrock.

Tim Kellett inspects an ancient ash at Enys, Cornwall

Suddenly I had an excuse, and I began to go on any event I could, and walked miles of Cornish pathways searching for those special trees. I have learned so much in a short time from the Cornwall Ancient Tree Forum gang - especially Brian Muelaner and now I make an attempt to pass this on to other keen recorders.

Tim inspects the inside of an ancient ash at the Enys estate. It has survived for so long, but he wonders what its future holds with Ash Dieback?

The Great Trees of Cornwall project finished in June 2011 after three years of recording work. Lots of people had been involved and I took over organising activities and keeping in touch with the big mailing list we had. I guess being so enthusiastic meant people were happy to let me get on with it - so I did!

I have organised and led 14 field recording sessions since then, and continued to walk the countryside with my black lab Cassy who appears in quite a few tree pics. I was very surprised to be offered the role of Lead Volunteer Verifier for the South West, a year or so ago, but I have given it my best shot, and tried to keep in touch with a number of people over a huge area.

ATH verifier training in Cornwall
ATH verifier training in Cornwall

We're planning more events all the time and recently I ran a verifiers training session of my own at the Duchy College which brought along a few conservation students and tutors. I was amazed to get 19 people on this event from all backgrounds from Cornwall, Devon and Somerset - now signed up as ATH verifiers. So now the number of verifiers in the region has doubled.

My favourite recorded trees include:
• The 7.03m sweet chestnut, a great maiden tree in a private garden I estimated to be about 450 years old. Have you ever tried to use the Forestry Commission calculation for estimating tree ages? It's quite a challenge, even if you have a mathematical background...

450-year-old sweet chestnut, Cornwall

• An ancient beech hedge - this took a couple of hours walk in a steep wooded valley to find it - and all the way back again! But it revealed a whole row of overgrown old beeches

Ancient beech hedge, Cornwall

• An ancient ash tree on an estate called Enys (pictured at the top of the page). We were really pleased because where we had recorded more than 100 veterans and given up hope of finding an ancient!

• The Swannacott oaks - two fantastic hollow pollard sessiles, one ancient, one veteran with unusual spreading low canopies on a north coast farm.

• My favourite Cornish tree is the Darley Oak. Half the tree came crashing down in the 1980s. It had been recorded at over 11m prior to that.

Tim Kellett at the Darley Oak in Cornwall
Tim Kellett at the Darley Oak in Cornwall

Cornwall is relatively poor in ancient trees, certainly big oaks and yews. It is my ambition to find a 10m tree in the county, but none of my colleagues hold out much hope!

ANCIENT TREE HUNT
mapping the UK's ancient
& special trees

The Ancient Tree Hunt is a living database of ancient and special trees. More than 110,000 trees have been recorded by volunteers and partners.

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Highlights from the Ancient Tree Hunt database

The Darley Oak, Cornwall
The Darley Oak, Cornwall

Possibly 1000 years old and still going strong! The Darley Oak, on the edge of Bodmin Moor, has certainly seen some action in its time and has even been a venue for some rather unusual tea parties, as long ago as 1727 – inside a hollow in the trunk! Age began to take its toll and the great canopy section collapsed in the 1980s so the parties had to stop..

This wonderful tree is the subject of much local folklore, too, with special healing properties for various ailments and diseases. Its acorns, of which there were many in the past, were used as good luck charms during pregnancy. Allegedly, wishes will be granted to anyone who passes through the hollow and circles the girth.

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