Thursday, 27 September 2012

Respect your Elders!

In Britain we should be proud to host some of the oldest living things on the planet. Trees. Old, gnarly, veteran trees. Trees that may have been around when wolves and lynx still roamed our island and have survived while everything else around them changed.

Veteran trees (aka ancient trees) are ones that make you say "Wow! Look at the size of that tree!" Trees that aren't necessarily tall, but are fat and often ooze a sense of antiquity. These venerable plants are rich havens for life. Not only are they astonishing organisms in their own right, but their decay and their gnarled, craggy features provide habitats for a host of living things, from fungi and lichens, to rare flies and beetles, to woodpeckers and bats.

They are also steeped in fascinating history and folklore. The names say it all: Herne's Oak, The Martyrs' Tree,  Robin Hood's Oak, The Anckerwycke Yew . . .

Veteran oak on the River Findhorn. Note the badger hole to left and the heap of sandy spoil  towards the top right of the picture.

In Britain we have more veteran trees than the rest of Europe combined. and many of them are truly ancient. The Fortingall Yew in Perthshire is estimated to be between 3,000 and 5,000 years old. How many countless generations of insects, spiders and birds have taken refuge in this tree's branches? How many generations of humans have gone about their business and wondered at the age of this tree? Whole civilizations have come and gone since it was a seedling!

On the banks of the River Findhorn, not far from where I live, is a grove of ancient trees, next to what was once a medieval jousting ground. One of them is an oak at least 11 metres in circumference and has a badger sett among its roots. How many generations of badgers? . . .

Sadly ancient trees are not always given the protection they need and deserve, and many have been felled felled needlessly. If you know of any ancient trees near you, be sure to report them. Find out more about this wonderful part of our natural heritage and be part of the Woodland Trust's  Ancient Tree Hunt .

The man of science and of taste will…. discover the beauties in a tree, which the others would condemn for its decay…’Humphry Repton, landscape gardener, 1803.

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