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What is a veteran tree?


Before we answer the question on what a veteran tree is, first we must ask, what classifications are there for trees and how do we determine which category a tree should be classified into?


There are several categories for trees, not all are associated with age, in fact, only two of the categories actually has anything to do with age and they are ancient trees and heritage trees. These, also are only loosely based on age, more correctly, they are based on historical significance or relative age.


Ancient trees are often knobbly, twisted and have low, fat and squat shape. They have a wide trunk compared with others of the same species and are often hollow, though this may not be visible. As previously mentioned ancient trees' age is relative to its species - a 150 year old Silver birch may be classed as an ancient tree but a 150 year old English oak? Not a chance. In reality, an English oak needs to be approximately 400 years old before it can be classed as ancient...and a Yew? A Yew needs to be at least 800 years old before it can be classified as ancient. A famous example of an ancient tree is The Buxted Yew (pictured above). A tree that Steve has previously worked in. It is in Buxted, East Sussex and well worth a visit if you are in the area!


Veteran trees can be any age, but must show characteristics of an ancient tree.

The Ancient Tree Forum says that "These may not just be due to age, but could result from natural damage, management, or the tree’s environment. Ancient trees are all veterans, but not all veterans are ancient." Natural England say that "A veteran tree may be a tree that is of interest biologically, culturally or aesthetically because of its age, size or condition’" Highlighting why it is often difficult to classify a veteran tree and why in the arboricultural industry, it is often a hot topic for debate.

A veteran tree can be described as a tree in its latter stages of life, though this may be its longest phase. Veteran trees are often not tall, though this is not always the case. All trees grow to different maximum heights but in later life they naturally reduce their crowns to preserve their energy, which is why most veteran trees are of smaller stature.

Listed below are some key features of veteran trees: • Girth large for the tree species concerned

• Major trunk cavities or progressive hollowing

• Naturally forming water pools

• Decay holes

• Physical damage to trunk

• 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

• Fungal fruiting bodies (e.g. from heart rotting species)

• High number of interdependent wildlife species

• Epiphytic plants

• An ‘old’ look

• High aesthetic interest


Though these feature may be present on any tree, a combination of several of these characteristics of a tree are generally considered to contribute to its veteran status.


Ancient and veteran trees are not the only tree categories that a tree can be classified by. Others include Heritage, notable and champion trees.

Heritage trees are trees that represent a historical significance, either in time or to a person.

Key examples of Heritage trees include the Major Oak in Sherwood Forest, named after Major Heyman Rooke, and the Tolpuddle Martyr’s Tree in Dorset for its representation of trade unionists.


Notable trees are trees in a local area that are recognised by the area, or have local significance because it is special or particularly large compared with the trees around it.


Champion trees are trees which are the tallest or has the widest girth in a group of trees or in a specific area.


If you are unsure if you have an ancient or veteran tree, or any other classification tree for that matter, then get SMW (Tree) Consultancy Ltd to come and assess your trees. We are happy to advise you on how to manage your trees as well as assessing their health and safety.

Give us a call on 01276 385 65 or use our contact page to get in touch. https://www.smwconsultancy.co.uk/contact-us


Sources: http://www.ancienttreeforum.co.uk/ancient-trees/what-are-ancient-veteran-trees/

http://publications.naturalengland.org.uk/file/113006

https://www.visitsherwood.co.uk/things-to-do/the-major-oak/



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