Meadow and Woodland Study: Ancient Woodland and Veteran Trees


Ancient Woodland

The woodland we are studying this year (and very possibly next year) is ancient woodland, which has been in existence since the 1600’s and is composed of only species of trees native to the UK.  We are blessed because a secondary woodland has also grown up on this ancient land which had previously been cleared of trees (either by fire or the ploughing up of the land), which means we have the best of both worlds, both veteran and young trees live here companionable together:


There are up to 1600 veteran oak pollards in the woodlands near to us, some of which are up to 600 years old.  These veteran oaks, the majority of which have hollowed trunks filled with decaying wood, are of immense  ecological importance and  historical significance.  The pollards of our woodland were once harvested for fire wood, fodder and timber and were therefore a very important natural resource for local people:


Ancient Woodland – why is it so important?

The decaying wood and old growth associated with veteran trees is incredibly important within these ancient woods. Additional decay can also be found both in standing deadwood (fire or storm damaged trees and trees that have died naturally) and fallen trees, logs and branches. Old growth and deadwood support specialised and rare species of plants and animals, many of which rely on wood decay for one or more stages of their life cycles. Aging Oak standards and coppice stools naturally develop holes and hollows, providing homes for birds and bats:


The woodland we are currently studying has a huge variety of breeding birds (for example nuthatches, tree creepers, all three British woodpeckers, woodcocks, sparrow hawks and tawny owls) as well as a large population of bats.

Characteristics of a Veteran Tree

There are certain characteristics a tree may display which would indicate it could be a veteran tree.  The more of these a tree has, the more likely the tree is veteran.  I thought it would be fun to see how many our old wishing tree had:
Girth large for the tree species concerned:

Major trunk cavities or progressive hollowing:


This wishing tree has a cavity in the middle which likely collects pools of water
Naturally forming water pools (see above)
Decay holes
Physical damage to trunk and/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:

veteran tree- crevice
Fungal fruiting bodies (e.g. from heart rotting species), a high number of interdependent wildlife species and/or epiphytic plants:

An ‘old’ look:

High aesthetic interest

This tree is named and well-known in our village, so I’m thinking it has a fairly high aesthetic interest value!  It’s really kind of magical, don’t you think?


I would conclude that our Wishing Tree is in deed a veteran tree.

Veteran Oak Tagging

This proved to be a spot on deduction as we discovered when we found a silver tag up high on the Wishing Tree:


And close up:


Over the course of 1993, the job of surveying and tagging the ancient oak pollards took place.  Each tree was tagged with its own unique number and mapped for monitoring purposes using a GIS system.  The tags were checked during the 2007/2008 season, and retagged if they had lost their original tags.  In 2009 they were rechecked and management priorities for veteran tree conservation were put into action.

We are hoping to visit the conservators and learn how they take care of and preserve the veteran oak pollards of our woodland.  But that is for another post.


    1. Ha! We are so enjoying our nature studies. I really do love learning more about the area in which we live. During our pond study the focus was very much on the bird life, whereas here the focus is on the trees. Who knew trees could be as interesting as ducks?

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