On a brisk yet sunny day a couple of weeks ago, Mark Antcliff (National Park Authority’s Woodland Officer) and I travelled down to Staffordshire to represent the North York Moors National Park Authority at a meeting of the Ancient Tree Forum at St George’s Park.
The Forum’s overriding aim is to conserve Britain’s Ancient and Veteran Trees. Ancient and Veteran Trees act as entire ecosystems, providing a variety of habitats for all kinds of organisms (insects, fungi, birds, bats). They play a hugely important role in biodiversity and are home to a large number of rare and endangered species – 11% of European beetles that are linked to the dead wood parts of Ancient and Veteran Trees are classed as ‘threatened’. These trees are an important part of our natural heritage and each one is a manifestation of living history.
This ancient oak tree above was measured as having 7.38 metres girth and was estimated to be around 600-700 years old, which would make it the site’s oldest tree
- Dead branches;
- Hollowing of the trunk;
- Fungi and moulds;
- An exceptionally wide trunk (when compared to other trees of the same type).
St George’s Park, near Burton on Trent in Staffordshire, is where the English Football Association have their National Football Centre. The Football Association developed the parkland site in the 2000s into a state of the art training facility for England’s international football teams. The site has an unusually high number of Ancient and Veteran trees. The history of the site includes usage as a medieval hunting forest, subsequently as the grounds of an Estate, and later as an airfield and training base during the Second World War. And now it’s a National Football Centre. Despite the changes in land usage, the site had historically been managed as a woodland pasture resulting in the retention of a surprising number of very old and beautiful trees.
The meeting looked at how the new development had been integrated within the site without damaging the surviving trees and discussed the continuing parkland management of the important Ancient and other Veteran Trees here. The land ownership now belongs with the English Football Association and is partly tenanted by a local farmer, currently operating under a Natural England Higher Level Stewardship Agreement which involves land management for environmental benefits.
The meeting itself brought together many of the country’s Ancient and Veteran Tree experts and provided a great opportunity to discuss the various issues affecting these special trees, individually and within the wider landscape, with highly valued members of the scientific community. The day helped us develop a better understanding of the current issues that are affecting these remarkable trees across the country and the best ways to manage Ancient and Veteran Trees so they can survive as long as possible. We’ll be putting this knowledge into good practice in the North York Moors.