Britain's ancient trees: Walking the trunk route

The National Trust is launching a series of walks to celebrate Britain's most ancient trees. Alice-Azania Jarvis meets the arboreal expert who believes we should all be branching out

A A A

I don't know anyone who has ever stood in front of an ancient tree without feeling awe-struck." Brian Muelaner is the National Trust's Ancient Tree Advisor and, in an effort to get Britons exploring the history of their natural environment, has put together a list of 10 areas worth visiting for their mature foliage. Spread across the country – from Calke Abbey in Derbyshire to Cheshire's Dunham Massey and Devon's Killerton – the sites offer the public the chance to engage, not just with nature, but also with local history and culture.

"There's the aesthetic element," explains Muelaner. "But these trees are also of huge cultural importance. They provide a link to ancient forests and they have witnessed some of the most amazing national events."

Oddly, for objects of such significance, ancient trees in the UK aren't afforded any kind of protected status. There are no plaques, no official listings. While it's possible to claim that species living on the tree need to be protected for scientific research, the age of the trunk itself isn't enough to guarantee preservation. Outside the National Trust's properties, little can be done to ensure they remain unharmed. Intensive farming, fertilisers and pesticides pose routine threats to "nature's cathedrals".

Hopefully, that situation won't continue much longer. Not long ago, the Woodland Trust launched its Ancient Tree Hunt, encouraging members of the public to upload details of individual trees in their area. When the location and the girth of the tree have been recorded, an expert will be deployed to assess its age. Winter is a good time for this, says Muelaner, because there are no leaves to obscure the body. "You can see the branches and – if you go now – you might even catch the fungi which grow on the trunk in Autumn."

The decision as to which arbours are ancient and which are simply old rests in large part on the species of tree. Birches get off relatively lightly, achieving "ancient" status at the tender age of 200. For an oak to qualify, it must have been growing for at least 600 years, and a yew needs 800. "The best conditions for them aren't the dense forests on the Continent," says Muelaner. "They need space. Our medieval forests were hunting grounds, which were perfect."

Muelaner's favourite spot is populated by sweet chestnuts. "I love the avenue at Croft Castle in Herefordshire. It is thought the trees derived from chestnuts aboard one of the Armada fleet. It's such a wonderful story." A story which, were it not for the ownership of the National Trust, could be lost. "We are one of the only countries in Europe that doesn't list our ancient trees. It is an issue that has been ignored by successive governments. After all, we do it to buildings: why not our forests?"

Brian Muelaner has chosen 10 of the best National Trust sites to see ancient trees. The walks will go live at www.nationaltrust.org.uk on 27 November

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
sport
Life and Style
Cheesecake frozen yoghurt by Constance and Mathilde Lorenzi
food + drinkThink outside the cool box for this summer’s frozen treats
News
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Sport
Sir Bradley Wiggins removes his silver medal after the podium ceremony for the men’s 4,000m team pursuit in Glasgow yesterday
Commonwealth games Disappointment for Sir Bradley in team pursuit final as England are forced to settle for silver
Sport
Alistair Brownlee (right) celebrates with his gold medal after winning the men’s triathlon alongside brother Jonny (left), who got silver
England's Jodie Stimpson won the women’s triathlon in the morning
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Report Analyst (SSRS, CA, SQL 2012)

£30000 - £38500 Per Annum + 25 days holiday, pension, subsidised restaurant: C...

Application Support Analyst (SQL, Incident Management, SLAs)

£34000 - £37000 Per Annum + excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

Embedded Software / Firmware Engineer

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Pension, Holiday, Flexi-time: Progressive Recruitm...

Developer - WinForms, C#

£280 - £320 per day: Progressive Recruitment: C#, WinForms, Desktop Developmen...

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform