‘Like a map of buried treasure’: location of UK’s ancient trees revealed

A map has revealed the likely location of the UK’s most ancient trees. It suggests that there could be many more than previously thought.

“Like a map of buried treasure”. That’s how conservationists have described new research, which suggests there could be as many as 2m ancient and veteran trees in the UK — ten times as many as previously thought. 

Researchers from the University of Nottingham developed mathematical models that could map the likely locations of ancient trees throughout the UK. Volunteers then made field visits to verify that the maps were reliable.

“Based on the best performing distribution models, these estimates predict two million ancient and veteran trees, which is an amazing increase on what is currently recorded,” said Dr Victoria Nolan, one of the lead researchers on the study. 

An ancient tree refers to a tree with a high age in comparison to other trees from the same species. Many ancient trees share similar characteristics, such a hollowing trunk, deadwood in the canopy, or the presence other organisms such as fungi and plants on their structure. Although they have similar characteristics and values to ancient trees’, veteran trees may not be old enough for them to be considered truly ancient.

This research builds on the work of the Woodland Trust, Ancient Tree Forum, and the Tree Register, which have mapped 180,000 trees. 

“It’s remarkable that this research suggests we are yet to find most of the UK’s ancient trees, the cathedrals of the natural world,” said Adam Cormack of the Woodland Trust. “They’re out there somewhere — hidden in field corners, woods, hedges, even gardens and parks. [This research] is like a map for buried treasure.” 

The University of Nottingham map

He added: “But it’s also worrying because these trees don’t have the automatic legal protection that most of our wildlife and old buildings have. This is despite the fact some are more than 1,000 years old.”

The Woodland Trust is petitioning governments across the UKProtect ancient trees better

“These astonishing trees are our inheritance from history, and we should be treating them like national treasures,” said Cormack.

Main image: An antique oak tree in Epping Forest. Essex. Credit: Iwona Wawro

Help us continue breaking the bad news bias

Positive News is helping more people than ever to get a balanced view of the world – one that supports their wellbeing and empowers them to make a difference towards a better future. And as our audience and impact grows, we’re showing the rest of the media that good news matters.

But the UK’s cost of living crisis is hitting us hard, with fewer people able to commit to a magazine subscription – which has traditionally been our main source of funding. Plus, printing and paper costs continue to rise.

We don’t want to put a paywall on our website, because we believe everyone should have the chance to benefit from good news. But we won’t be able to continue funding our online reporting without your help.

If you are a positive person and feel that you can afford it, consider making a regular, small contribution as a Positive news supporter. We need 1,000 readers to contribute just £3 per month to get us through this challenging time.

Remember that we are a not-for profit and work only for you. All funds go towards our journalism.