Most people can see the intrinsic value of an old, historical building but almost everyone will look in awe at an ancient, veteran tree that has obviously withstood the ravages of time and human habitation of its planet to survive for so long.

Just like a listed building the tree presents as an item of special interest and its cultural and aesthetic value is a measurable quantity purely on the time it has been alive. The UK has been blessed as it has the highest population of these veteran trees in Northern Europe.

How ancient trees have survived the generations

The continual same ownership of old estates in the UK is one reason that an old tree would ave survived. Landowners of royal estates were not given to practise deforestation as a means of making money. Trees that have been part of the British landscape for centuries have been allowed to survive without felling.

The same can be said for the traditional old Yew that grows in old churchyards. This species of tree has been known to live for many hundreds of years.

Identifying a veteran tree

There is a list of ways that can help a person recognise a veteran tree but sometimes the characteristics don’t necessarily exist at all. They are:

  • Girth that is considered large for the tree species concerned
  • Major trunk cavities or progressive hollowing
  • Naturally forming water pools
  • Physical damage to trunk, decay or bark loss
  • Large quantity of dead wood in the canopy
  • Sap runs
  • Crevices in the bark, under branches or on the root plate sheltered from direct rainfall
  • Fungal fruiting bodies (e.g. from heart rotting species)
  • High number of interdependent wildlife species
  • Epiphytic plants
  • High aesthetic interest, cultural/historic value or an ‘old look’
  • Show indications of past management
  • Stand on a prominent position in the landscape

The importance of veteran trees

Veteran trees are often historically linked with significant events. All, however, have historical value. These trees have survived the past, relics of an ancient British landscape. Trees become a living document, showing their origin and a story of landscape management. Veteran trees are often found to be markers that occur at boundary banks or hedgerows, meaning they contribute to studies on ancient land divisions.

Management of veteran trees

Considering the importance of these historic markers on our planet, it goes without saying that working on ancient trees is a dangerous and often tricky endeavour thanks to the tools and climbing required and the legality around trees. For this reason, only experienced contractors who carry tree surgeon insurance should undertake the work.

How to manage veteran trees

Any tree surgeon should produce a management plan that assesses the site or tree in question. A decision to actively manage an ancient tree should not be taken lightly, as many can be left alone to flourish. You’ll need to assess safety, whether cutting will damage its value in the landscape, whether the cutting will harm the biological value of the site and more.