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The Ancient Tree Forum Summer Meeting

The Summer Meeting of the Ancient Tree Forum, at Kingston Maurwood, near Dorchester in Dorset, opened with a talk about the ATI by David Alderman, on Identifying ancient trees and the differences in growth across the UK.

There was analysis of the 145,000 verified records of which 72% are veteran and ancient. The value of this database and the importance of the work being completed by the ATI volunteer verifiers was acknowledged. The definitions of ancient, veteran and notable were described, along with illustrations of typical and some less typical, trees being allocated this status. The problems of identifying a trees age by purely visual means was highlighted, as was the experience of our volunteers in the field who carrying out this verifying role.

The Top 10 species being recorded were shown, with Oak clearly being No.1 with over 51,000 records, some 35% of the database. The importance of Ash, coming in third after Beech, was mentioned in light of the current Ash Dieback Disease.

The importance of pollards, amongst the population of ancient Oak, illustrated the influence that historic pollarding has had on the number of ancient trees the UK now has. The Woodland Trust’s Hainault Forest was given as an example where volunteers identified veteran and ancient trees from the degree of pollarding and the amount of hollowing of their trunks. The importance of obvious hollowing in the majority of ancient trees was stressed as a key ancient tree indicator.

The three life phases of an Oak were shown as being semi-mature, mature and over-mature and how typically these fitted to the age of a tree in relation to them being notable, veteran or ancient. The overlap and wider age range of veteran trees was clearly illustrated and the point made that this also varied from species to species and site to site across the UK. On a historical timeline, it was shown that all Tudor and earlier Oak will always be ancient, whilst those planted during the era of Capability Brown (1750-1800), will mostly be veteran. When overlaying girth sizes to these phases, there is an even wider overlapping range, with ancient Oak trees being recorded from 3m in girth, veterans from 1m and notable trees could be as big as 4m girth. Aging an Oak from girth alone is clearly impossible!

Similar life phases of Birch were briefly described, showing a major difference between lowland and upland birch, where it is known that birch can be more than 200 years old with none of the typical and characteristic signs of hollowing or ageing.

Examples of different growth forms of Oak that may affect girth were shown and how these can affect our perception of an old tree. A graph was shown using data from the past 200 years on how one famous tree, the Panshanger Oak, has been growing and how some trees may be younger than we think.

The talk ended with a rally for more recording. Trees are still being added to the ATI at about 100 trees per week and big trees and Oak are still being discovered. The threats to trees and the need to collect more data to identify nationally important sites for their trees, is important work and will be more accessible to analyse when the new ATI website is launched.