Worcestershire's Ancient Tree Register
A new recording scheme

By Harry Green & John Tilt

Your help is needed!

Worcestershire contains many ancient trees and we want to know where they are.

Why are ancient trees important?

Entomologists have long been aware that large ancient trees growing in open situations such as parkland (wood pasture) contained important communities of rare invertebrates dependent on decaying wood. Such trees may also support important epiphytic communities, especially lichens. Large communities of these groups and other organisms also use all parts of the tree. Fungi play a key role in causing heartwood decay so making a food resource available to insects, and some of the fungi are themselves rare. Fungi also provide house and home for some invertebrates. Furthermore, ancient trees are of great landscape and cultural significance and are part of our ancient countryside. These trees are the oldest inhabitants of the countryside, apart from some fungi. (Harding & Rose 1986, Alexander 1998, 1999)

Where are they?

Some of the historically best known collections of ancient trees are at Windsor Park, in the New Forest, and at Moccas Park in west Herefordshire (for the latter see Harding & Wall 2000). In more recent times there has been a rising awareness that large numbers of ancient trees occur in other parts of the country and that the British Isles probably contains more ancient trees than elsewhere in Europe. Further studies are revealing that trees in various parts of Britain contain invertebrate and fungal communities as important as those at historically known sites. The Ancient Tree Forum, a group interested in promoting awareness, conservation, management and study of ancient trees in Britain and elsewhere, is playing an important role in raising interest in old trees, and interested persons can visit their website www.woodland-trust.org.uk/ancient-tree-forum

Why do ancient trees need special attention?

As awareness of the trees has increased so has awareness of the vulnerability of the trees themselves, and also of the invertebrate communities using them. Many people may think of old trees as "dangerous", "habouring pathogens" (a forestry view), "past their best" (who is'nt!), or need to be removed because they shade grassland and crops and so reduce productivity, or they simply get in the way of farming. With modern machinery ancient trees can be removed easily and quickly. Also the most valuable trees for invertebrate and other communities are post-mature and look decrepit even if they are hale and hearty, and in forestry practice trees are usually harvested long before decay commences and the tree ages naturally. A rotten tree is not much use for producing timber. However, if new post-mature trees do not become available there will be nowhere for the dependent invertebrates to go when the present ancient trees finally die and disappear.

In this context management of ancient trees is important. Many were pollarded many years ago to provide branch timber, and pollarding may have been the route by which fungi entered the tree so starting the wood-rot process, leading to loss of heartwood and a healthy but hollow ancient tree. The cylinder of outer wood lives for many years and carries out the transportation of nutrients etc within the tree perfectly well, but if the weight of branches may become too great for the trunk to support the tree may collapse (see article on the Mawley Oak in this issue). To avoid collapse new pollarding may be needed to reduce the weight, but this must be done with great care and skill to avoid killing the tree. The internal transport system up and down the tree must not be broken

Why record ancient trees in Worcestershire?

In recent years investigations on Bredon Hill, (Whitehead 1996), Croome Landscape Park (Lott 1996) and elsewhere have revealed many ancient trees in both relatively ordinary countryside and especially in old parkland. Examination of the trees is revealing important invertebrate communities and uncommon fungi. The main concentration of these trees is in south Worcestershire according to current information, and the ancient tree zone includes north Gloucestershire in the Severn valley. Ancient trees are also being found in other parts of the county. West Worcestershire woodlands are important for veteran limes both Tilia cordata and Tilia platyphyllos.

The Worcestershire Register

The aim of this brief review (see Reference list for further information) is to explain the reasons and need for establishing a Register of Ancient Trees in Worcestershire. We know we have many ancient trees but we don't know where they all are, or whether they support important invertebrates and fungi. If we can gather this information we shall be in a better position encourage better understanding of their importance, management and conservation. All this is admirably expressed in the Worcestershire Biodiversity Action Plan for Lowland Wood Pasture and Veteran Trees which can be viewed on the website www.worcestershire.gov.uk/biodiversity/Habitats1-10/woodpastvettrees.

Commencement of the Worcestershire Register after several years thinking about it, is largely due to John Tilt's retirement! Various of us have discussed the project for several years but could not make progress. John's computing expertise, retirement, and enthusiasm for old trees have enabled us to make a start! The scheme is run by volunteers.

When Does A Tree Become Ancient?

This is actually quite difficult to define. THEY LOOK ANCIENT is not as silly as it sounds! They seem to exhibit ancient vigour - a concept in the eye of the beholder - but naturally aging trees look quite different from trees which have been recently killed. The diameter of the trunk is often great - but not always! The tree shows signs of regression - dead branches, stag headed (but beware because many young oaks are stag-headed because of severe environmental problems such as changed drainage, and intensive agriculture). The tree carries dead wood in both branches and trunk. The tree may show signs of past damage such as pollarding and lightening strike. The latter often shows scars running down the trunk to the ground. The tree is hollow although this may not always be obvious as the hollowed-out centre may be encased in living outer tree: the hollow centre can often be seen round the base or through holes. Bark-less areas of solid wood may be visible, often riddled with beetle emergence holes. Bracket fungi may sprout from the trunk, often near the base, indicating that internal rot is in progress.

Good examples of ancient trees can be seen at Pipers Hill Common Reserve near Hanbury. Here there are ancient oaks and sweet chestnuts. There are also old beeches which are important for fungi and invertebrates,but in this species "old" is probably about 200 years rather than over 500 years. There are also ancient oaks on parts of the boundary to Grafton Wood Reserve.

Ancient oak in the boundary of Grafton Wood (photo J Tilt)

Ancient oak in Croome Landscape Park (photo J Tilt)

Which Species?

Oak is the commonest ancient tree is south Worcestershire; Ash is next; beech is scarce.
Ancient field maples Acer campestris also occur in small numbers.
Both species of lime can be found in west Worcestershire especially in ancient dingle woods which have not be subject to intensive forestry.
Large sweet chestnut trees occur in some places.

We are not setting out to record ancient yews or pollarded willows at present.

The Register

The recording methods are based on a protocol prepared by English Nature's Veteran Tree Initiative.

Collecting The Information

Two recording forms are to be used and copies are included with this Worcestershire Record:

They are:

  1. Site Recording Form
  2. Tree Recording Form.

Please photocopy the enclosed examples for your use. A site may obviously include several trees.

USE ONE TREE RECORDING FORM FOR EACH TREE. The reason for this is to make computer entry easy and to avoid making mistakes during entry. Clip the site form and its tree forms together when you send them in.

How To Record

Guidance notes for filling in the forms follow this article. We can also supply these separately on request.

Please fill in as much information as you can - there needs to be an entry in each box and don't forget notes..

Perhaps the most important information is to record the exact site of each ancient tree as accurately as possible. If you are able please mark them on a map and send this with the form. Please try to record grid references accurately to eight figures (ie to 10x10 m square accuracy.

If possible take a photograph preferably with a digital camera, or send prints. Whichever you use please label with exact tree details. The photos will be included in the database.

Send your records directly to John Tilt - address etc on the forms. He is maintaining the database copies of which will also be kept at the Worcs BRC Office and elsewhere.


Some trees can be visited from public Rights of Way or if they are in places where public access is allowed, others require an owner's permission. You do need to get close to a tree to check its girth and height.

References and selected bibliography

If you follow-up these references they will lead you into the world of ancient trees ....!

ALEXANDER KNA. 1998. The links between Forest History and Biodiversity: the invertebrate fauna of ancient pasture woodlands in Britain and its conservation. In KIRBY KJ & WATKINS C (Eds) The Ecological history of European Forests. CAB International
ALEXANDER K. 1999. The Invertebrates of Britain's Wood Pastures. British Wildlife 11(2), 108-117.
GREEN T. 1992. The forgotten Army - Woodland Fungi. British Wildlife. 4(2) 85-86.
HARDING PT & ROSE F. 1986. Pasture Woodland in lowland Britain: A review of their importance for wildlife conservation. NERC (ITE); Huntingdon.
HARDING PT & WALL T. 2000. Moccas: an English Deer Park. English Nature.
KIRBY KJ & DRAKE CM. 1993. Dead wood matters: the ecology and conservation of saproxylic invertebrates in Britain. English Nature.
KIRBY P. 1992 reprint 2001. Habitat management fo invertebrates: a practical handbook. JNCC/RSPB.
LOTT D 1996 Report on Beetle survey at Croome Park 1996. National Trust unpublished report.
NACONEX PROJECT TEXT BOOK. 2002. Tools for preserving woodland biodiversity. Available from Corporation of London..
RAYNER ADM. 1993. The fundamental importance of fungi in Woodlands. British Wildlife 4(4) 205-215.
READ H. 2000. Veteran Trees: A guide to good management. English Nature.
READ H. 1991. Pollard and Veteran Tree Management. Corporation of London.
READ H. 1996. Pollard and Veteran Tree Management II. Corporation of London.
ROSE F. 1993. Ancient British Woodlands and their epiphytes. British Wildlife 5(2) 83-93.
SPEIGHT MCD.. 1989. Saproxylic invertebrates and their conservation. Nature and Environment Series No 42. Council of Europe: Strasbourg.
THOMAS P 2000. Trees: Their natural history. CUP.
VERA FWM. 2000. Grazing ecology and Forest History. CABI Publishing.
WHITEHEAD PF. 1996 The notable Coleoptera of Bredon Hill, Worcestershire, England. Coleopterist 5:45-53.

Veteran pollarded oaks at Longdon Marsh (Hill Court Farm Worcestershire Wildlife Trust Reserv. Preliminary survey work is showing that oaks at Hill Court are host to uncommon decaying wood invertebrates. (photo Harry Green)

Scant remains of ancient small-leaved lime in Crews Hill Reserve. Still alive and well! (photo Harry Green)

Ancient pollarded small-leaved lime in Suckley Wood (owned and managed by Bob Steele). Arboricultural work to reduce the weight on the old trunk is being done over several years. About one-third of the heavy limbs will be shortened each 1-2 years. (photo Harry Green)

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