It is estimated that about 70% of Europe’s oldest trees are to be found in the UK. The Woodland Trust and Tree Register of the British Isles, have been compiling a database of ancient, veteran and notable trees within the British Isles and over 150,000 records have now been made, and most have been verified as accurate. Recorded to date are 12452 ‘ancient’ trees (very old/large for the species and/or possessing many ancient features, such as hollow stems or branches) 93437 ‘veteran’ trees (not yet ancient, but possessing some of the features associated with ancient trees) and 40896 ‘notable’ trees (can sometimes be veteran, and may be significant in a local/historical context). So far, 1133 ancient ash, 6480 veteran ash and 2372 notable ash have been recorded, of which 65 ancient ash, 282 veteran ash and 176 notable ash are in Scotland.
Ancient and veteran trees provide invaluable habitats for invertebrates, birds and mammals. 1700 species (6% of UK total) of invertebrates depend on decaying wood for completing their life cycles. 400 0f the 447 macrofungi on the British Red Data List, derive from ancient woodland and lowland pasture woods. Many birds and bats nest in cavities in ancient and veteran trees, and rely on them for food sources too.
The main threats to ancient and veteran trees are from felling, changes in land use and competition from surrounding trees. Increasingly, new pests and diseases (such as ash dieback) and problems related to climate change, pose a real threat to our oldest trees. There have been some recent developments in increasing protection for this valuable resource, which is encouraging.
“10,000 oaks of 100 years are not a substitute for one 500 year old oak” – Oliver Rackham (conservation author and historian)
“Ancient trees are precious. There is little else on Earth that plays host to such a rich community of life within a single living organism” – Sir David Attenborough
The ancient ash trees near Menstrie, on the side of the Ochill Hills, are in a designated SSSI. It is a very special site for ancient and veteran ash trees on a very steep exposed hillside; most if not all have been recorded in the last 2 years by Ben Jump and myself. It will be interesting to see if these very special trees are more resistant to the ash dieback; so far it seems that the very old trees do have more resistance than young ones, but it may be that they will eventually succumb.
The ATI database is invaluable in that it is a living record of where the majority of ash trees in the UK are, their age and condition;and anyone can access it online at http://www.ancient-tree-hunt.org.uk.