Conservation opportunities presented by a new map of ancient trees

A new map has shown that there may be as many as two million trees of exceptional cultural and environmental value in England.

Conservation opportunities presented by a new map of ancient trees

A new map has shown that there may be as many as two million trees of exceptional cultural and environmental value in England.

This is ten times more than the official records currently.

This tree-map offers a rare glimpse of optimism in conservation.

The Woodland Trust charity warns however that these trees, also known as old or veteran specimens, have "almost no" legal defense.

This happened after an oak tree that dates back centuries was cut down in Peterborough by the council on Wednesday. The council said it was most likely to cause "structural damage” to homes nearby.

The BBC joined the hunt to find one of these ancient giants.

We follow Steve Marsh, Woodland Trust, on the Ashton Court Estate, near Bristol. We fight our way through brambles, rhododendrons, and other obstacles in the search for the legendary Domesday Oak.

We discover an unnamed ancient tree, which the Trust does not have any record of. The air is still and cool, so we take turns sitting in the inside.

An ancient tree is a tree that is remarkably old for its age. They are often called "living archaeology".

They are incredibly rich in wildlife. One ancient oak is more diverse than a thousand 100 year-old oaks.

Veteran trees are older in age but have the same features as an ancient specimen.

Steve pats the wood, describing the feeling he gets when he sees an old cathedral or church.

He claims that the tree is twice as old than St Paul's Cathedral (1675), and as old or more ancient as the Tower of London.

He explains that those buildings are protected. However, the reason this tree survived is because it was in a park where landowners took care of it.

He says that heritage status should be granted to at least some of the oldest and most remarkable trees in order to preserve them and ensure their future care.

This is exactly the type of hidden ancient Dr Victoria Nolan spent four years searching for at the University of Nottingham.

She told me that it was impossible to find two million people after poring through records and walking through the English countryside.

The computer model was used by her team to predict the location of trees. It considered the terrain, habitat, distance from cities, and population.

"At first, we couldn't believe these results. She said that the most surprising thing for her was "how they can be everywhere, even in places you might not think an ancient tree might"

Many of them are located in London's historic hunting parks, forests, and in the Lake District, Hereford, and Northumberland.

Tree records were used to record the locations where scientists went to search for trees before they became popular.

She explains, "Now we show them where they are actually in the environment."

However, the results of her work can be "kinda scary".

"Our limited knowledge means that these trees are not currently protected. It doesn't matter where the trees are located, anyone can cut them down.

They are being damaged, particularly in many agricultural landscapes."

These living beings provide a safe haven to thousands of species as biodiversity levels fall.

Their respiration helps to cool the heating environment. They contain history and memories, which allows us to imagine and dream.

Scientists like Victoria, along with the rest of us, could now help keep more old trees alive, thanks to this updated map.

Ecological Applications, a scientific journal, published the study.

Follow Claire @BBCMarshall

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