Into the shadows

Victoria Franklin – Conservation Graduate Trainee

Thanks to archaeologists and historians we know a lot about the people who lived and worked in the historic landscape, but less about the shape and ecology of the landscape. There have been a lot of theories by ecologists such as Frans Vera and George Peterken, who suggest that the landscape was fluid with more wood pasture rather than the closed canopy dense woodlands we’re more familiar with today.

Historic woodlands were a hub of life, providing fodder for livestock and materials for villagers, farmers, tanners, blacksmiths, carpenters, broom whittlers and charcoal makers. Trees were even a source for medicine, for example the bark of Pedunculate Oak Quercus robur was used as an antiseptic and Ash Fraxinus excelsior was steeped into tea and used to aid kidney problems. This eco-cultural hub seems a far cry from how we see woods today, often used as a place of tranquillity, for bird watching or to seek refuge from everyday life.

Over the past year I’ve been researching ‘Shadow Woods’ – areas where there was woodland in the past that is no longer there. These, now shadows of a former landscape, can be identified in a number of ways. As a starting point for the search, the Doomsday Book and historic Tithe and Enclosure maps can give an indication of how the landscape once looked. Researching old place and field names such as ‘Hagg’ meaning an area where trees were felled or ‘Hollin’ historically a word for Holly or browse, also give clues as to the location of previously wooded areas.

With permission from land managers, we followed up on potential sites by surveying for any ancient woodland indicator species, ground flora that has colonised over generations and gives an indication that the area has been continually wooded for a considerable length of time. These species will change from woodland to woodland and throughout the country, but include Bluebells Hyacinthoides non-scripta, Honeysuckle Lonicera periclymenum, Ramsons Allium ursinum, Wood sorrel ‎Oxalis acetosella, Early purple orchids Orchis mascula, Primroses Primula vulgaris and Climbing corydalis Ceratocapnos claviculata. These plants continue to flower long after the surrounding woodland has gone. The residual flora and soils in these spaces are irreplaceable.  

Primroses Primula vulgaris, Wood anemone Anemonoides nemorosa amongst bracken and Hawthorn Crataegus monogyna scrub. Copyright NYMNPA.
Primroses Primula vulgaris, Wood anemone Anemonoides nemorosa amongst bracken and Hawthorn Crataegus monogyna scrub. Copyright NYMNPA.

Early purple orchids Orchis mascula and Primroses Primula vulgaris, strong evidence that the area is a Shadow Woodland. Copyright NYMNPA.
Early purple orchids Orchis mascula and Primroses Primula vulgaris, strong evidence that the area is a Shadow Woodland. Copyright NYMNPA

Any remaining veteran and ancient trees were surveyed for signs of being worked, which gives another glimpse into the past history of the wood. Coppiced trees such as willow were cut at the base when they are relatively young and the wood was used to make fences and shelters. Pollarded trees were cut just above the trunk to provide timber and fodder for animals leaving the tree alive to produce more wood in future years. An historically pollarded tree can be identified by having multiple branches.

Historically coppiced Willow.. Copyright NYMNPA.
Historically coppiced Willow. Copyright NYMNPA.

Ancient and Veteran trees are home to a whole host of deadwood beetles, fungi, lichen mosses and plants that cannot live anywhere else. These trees, botanical indicators and the soil of ancient and shadow woods are irreplaceable micro-habitats that have taken generations to create, once lost they will be gone forever.

The Shadow Wood sites surveyed within the North York Moors National Park were all in upland locations, many in remoter areas with little human disturbance since they were worked woodlands. The majority of these sites have been classed as grassland or as scattered parkland with a small amount of ancient or veteran trees. This classification strengthens the idea that the historic landscape was often open wood pasture rather than closed canopy woodlands.  

The hope is that identified sites can be targeted for woodland creation in the North York Moors National Park, therefore continuing and restoring life in these magical habitats, that are not only home to some amazing species and important trees but are a little bit of folklore too.

Image of Shadow Woodland in the North York Moors. Copyright NYMNPA.
Shadow woodland in the North York Moors. Copyright NYMNPA.

The Shadow Woods project within the North York Moors National Park has only been possible due to the dedicated work of Professor Ian Rotherham. His book Shadow Woods: a search for lost landscapes and publication Shadow Woods and Ghosts Survey Guide by C. Handley and I. D. Rotherham have provided invaluable research into these almost lost landscapes.

Seeds for the future

Alasdair Fagan – Woodland Creation Officer

In a previous blog, on the Year of Green Action, we mentioned the planting of 3,500 trees near Danby by National Park staff and volunteers. Our volunteers form an integral part of the work we are able to do, this is particularly the case with woodland work.

Last year saw the origins of the Acorn Volunteer Group. The task for this Group is to collect tree seed from the ancient woodlands and trees of the North York Moors to then be propagated and grown on at local tree nurseries with the ultimate aim of the trees being used in future woodland creation schemes throughout the area.

We focused in the first year on acorns as the National Park Authority has a bit of a history of acorn collecting and so we already knew some good spots to try. We managed to collect over 25,000 acorns. Going forward we are looking to diversify the tree species we collect to include species such as rowan, elder and wild cherry.

One of the North York Moors' oldest Ancient Oak Trees. Copyright NYMNPA.

So why is collecting tree seeds important?

There are ongoing discussions in the world of woodland and forestry about what is the best approach for new woodland planting – whether it should be young trees grown from seed which has been collected from the local area (‘local provenance’) or trees grown from seed sourced elsewhere in the country e.g. further south.

Local provenance seed has benefits such as being from trees which we know grow well on a kind of site or in a particular area , but seed from a more southerly zone has the potential to be better suited in the future because of an increasingly warming climate.

The predictions for climate change vary in severity based on the potential for carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions, but what is certain is that our summers will be warmer and drier (this is especially true in the east of the Britain) and our winters will be wetter. This means that the climatic conditions of the places where we are planting trees today to create woodlands could be significantly different in 100 years time. 100 years is not a long time within the lifetime of a woodland. Woodland managers need to consider the effects of their work over these long timescales. Planning now to survive the effects of climate change is essential to give our woodlands the greatest chance of reaching maturity.

Skipster Hagg. When the right site is chosen to plant woodland the rate at which the young saplings grow can be surprising. Copyright NYMNPA.

Ayton Banks. Stitchwort and bluebells growing on a site with newly planted trees. These woodland indicator plants grow on woodland soils and show where woodlands once existed. Copyright NYMNPA.Currently the advice for woodland managers is that the best approach depends on the characteristics of the site proposed. On sites where the woodland soils have remained relatively undisturbed, with intact woodland plant communities – such as bluebells and wood sorrel – planting local provenance trees is still the best choice, particularly if it is adjacent to an existing ancient woodland. However if the site is less sensitive then it makes sense to try and improve the woodland’s chance to withstand the effects of climate change and the resulting pests and disease as much as is possible; making the woodland more ‘resilient’.

This type of resilience is increased by having a higher number of tree species as more diversity means that any one pest or disease is unlikely to have a catastrophic effect on the entire wood. If you also incorporate into this diverse mix of tree species a mix of genetic stock, such as you would get from planting a mixture of trees sourced both locally and from further afield, then this is certain to improve a woodland’s chances of adaptation and survival in the future.

Setting up a seed collecting project is a way to make sure we have some locally sourced trees to plant, including some of the genetics of our oldest living trees. The project is also a great way to include volunteers and give them the opportunity to visit some of the ancient trees and woodlands hidden away in secluded parts of the North York Moors.

One of the many handfuls of acorns that made up the 25,000 that were collected in 2018. Photo credit – Tessa Bunney.

If you think you might like to sign up as an Acorn Volunteer with the National Park Authority then please contact me by email or ring me on 01439 772700.

We are Family

Alasdair Fagan – Woodland Creation Officer

All 15 UK National Parks are unique with their own landscape character, natural assets and cultural heritage. But we have a lot in common too, and therefore there is much value in sharing issues, experiences and lessons, and keeping in touch with each National Park that makes up our National Park Family.

The Tree and Woodlands Officer Group (TWOG) focuses on all things woodland and tree related across the UK National Parks. Every National Park’s Tree and/or Woodland Officers are members of TWOG and each year a particular Park hosts an annual gathering so members can get together in person to talk through issues and see what’s happening on the ground beyond their own Park.

2018 was our turn to host the TWOG meeting, so back in October Tree and/or Woodland Officers from other National Parks arrived in Helmsley.


We started with a welcome meeting and an introduction to the North York Moors by Andy Wilson, our Chief Executive.

We then headed out to Bilsdale stopping at key vantage points to look over woodland creation projects past, present and future throughout this linear north/south dale. There was a discussion around each National Park’s approach to tree planting and about the finer details of woodland creation such as landscaping, appropriate locations and grant support. For the North York Moors woodland creation is a priority and we have resources available to work with landowners to facilitate this. We’ve started with smallish individual sites but are starting to develop a more targeted strategic approach for the future.

Looking down over woodland creation projects in Bilsdale, TWOG visit Oct 2018. Copyright NYMNPA.

We then headed up into Tripsdale Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) which is valued for a mix of habitats. Within the area is High Wood which includes as many as 300 ancient and veteran trees. We considered the management of the Ancient Semi Natural Woodland area as a whole and also the invaluable irreplaceable individual trees. High Wood is a wood pasture – a grazed woodland – but currently the sheep are fenced out as we’re establishing young trees to help maintain succession on the site.

High Wood, TWOG visit Oct 2018. Copyright NYMNPA.

Veteran Tree in High Wood, TWOG visit Oct 2018. Copyright NYMNPA.

That first evening we had a talk by Professor Ian Rotherham from Sheffield Hallam University on ‘Shadow Woodlands’ and the significance of scrub. Shadow woodlands are essentially areas that still have remnant trees and woodland flora but are no longer woodland as such – they could provide appropriate place to target for woodland re-creation in the future.


The next day we headed off to the Forestry Commission’s Cropton Forest to have a look at their natural flood management features on Sutherland Beck. These features, such as woody debris dams where installed as part of the ‘Slowing the Flow’ project aimed at abating  past flooding issues in the town of Pickering downstream.

Cropton Forest with the Forestry Commission, TWOG visit Oct 2018. Copyright NYMNPA.

We then travelled north and after a quick stop at the Hole of Horcum on Levisham Estate to discuss past tree planting for landscape and natural flood management reasons, we stopped in Glaisdale.

Hole of Horcum, TWOG visit Oct 2018. Copyright NYMNPA.

We went into the West Arncliff 44 hectare woodland site to look at the work that began 6 years ago to convert part of the woodland from conifer plantation back to native broadleaved woodland. This site demonstrates the long term commitment required to achieve PAWS restoration. It’s part of a wider site that includes SSSI and Special Area of Conservation (SAC). We also got to see the nationally scarce Killarney Fern (Trichomanes speciosum).

West Arnecliff, TWOG visit Oct 2018. Copyright NYMNPA.

This visit inspired debates, discussions and recommendations around the challenges of restoring ancient woodland in hard to access sites.

West Arnecliff, TWOG visit Oct 2018. Copyright NYMNPA.

The last stop of the day was at a vantage point above Fryup Dale. This site provided the opportunity to discuss wood creation (again), work to integrate historic commercial forestry into the landscape and other woodland issues on a landscape scale. Sharing perspectives and comparisons from different National Parks was very illuminating.

Above Fryup Dale, TWOG visit Oct 2018. Copyright NYMNPA.

That evening we listened to another two fascinating talks from invited speakers. Nationally renowned woodland expert George Peterkin presented on Lady Park Wood, a woodland local to him in the Wye Valley, examining the context of a woodland not managed for 15-years and lessons that can be learnt. Brian Walker, who worked for the Forestry Commission for over 40 years, presented on the interconnected biodiversity of the Forestry Commission’s Langdale Forest.


On the morning after we closed with a formal meeting considering national issues such as Brexit implications for grant funding and payments for public goods, as well as woodland management and woodland creation (yet again). Then everyone went back to their home National Parks.

TWOG is just one way in which the National Park Family works and communicates with each other. I am glad it all worked out, even the weather was good and the autumn colours looked fabulous. I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to host such dedicated and experienced woodland representatives here in the North York Moors. I’m already looking forward to the next TWOG meeting, in 2019 at Snowdonia National Park.

TWOG visit Oct 2018. Copyright NYMNPA.

A to Z: a quantity of Qs



Quakers is a commonly used name for the Religious Society of Friends. Whether the term was originally meant to be derogatory or not, it is now embraced. The Society of Friends was formed in 17th century England. Quakerism spread particularly in northern England during that century due to missionary efforts.  In the same way that Methodism took hold in the North York Moors in later centuries, the Society of Friends found ready converts in this area due in part to the distance from centres of authority and conformist religion.

The founder, George Fox, had an understanding of Christianity that differed from that of the established Church of England at the time – he believed that there was something “of God in every person” (i.e. an inward light), people didn’t need Churches or Clergy to experience God they could do it themselves and have their own direct relationship. This idea of equality of all and divergence from the norm didn’t go down well in a period of Civil War, Interregnum and Restoration. Fox and others who thought the same way and who met together to listen to God, were imprisoned over and over again. Official persecution ended in 1689. 

After the initial period of conversion the Society turned inward and consolidated. New generations of Quakers sustained the Society – they didn’t need special buildings or clergy, their local meetings acted as self-regulating communities. A way of life was expected based on morality, honesty, diligence and most importantly, an inner conviction. The life of Joseph Foord, the land agent responsible for the engineered water races of the North York Moors, provides an example of how sometimes it wasn’t always easy for members of Quaker families to live up to all the expectations – Joseph was officially disowned for fornication. When he was buried, years later and away from home, he did end up in a Quaker cemetery although recorded as a ‘non member’.

Maybe not having inherited a place in the establishment, and having therefore avoided a classical only education and a disdain for business, individual Quakers worked hard for a living and for the betterment of all. They had big impacts in the industrial revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries including railways, and the iron and steel industries on Teesside.


Quaking grass is a common wild grass found in unimproved or semi improved grassland habitats on dry soils and slopes, the less nutrient rich the better. It relies on traditional hay meadow management (grazing or cutting) to give it a chance amongst more competitive grasses.

It has thin delicate stems ending in small coloured ‘locket shaped’ flowers which are what quake and tremble, making the grass easily identifiable in the summer when it stands out amidst the surrounding sward. The quivering movement and the rattling sound engendered make this grass particularly appealing and over time it’s been given a variety of different names based largely on the movement – Dothery dock, Shivery shakes, Wiggle waggle, Tottergrass, Quakers-and-shakers etc.

Image of Quaking Grass from


These are 28 Special Qualities of the National Park identified in the Authority’s Management Plan of 2012. The idea was to put into words the elements – landscape, environment, heritage and the feelings engendered – that make the North York Moors what it is i.e. special. It’s not an exhaustive list, everyone will have their own opinions, but it helps to illustrate the fundamental aspect that the whole has many valuable and interrelated parts.

Special Qualities from the North York Moors Management Plan 2012QUARRIES

Mineral resources from the North York Moors – limestone, sandstone, alum shales, ironstone, whinstone – have been quarried since the prehistoric period. Quarrying is a lot easier and cheaper than actual mining but depends on the mineral sought being close to the surface so it can be dug straight out, cutting into and manifestly changing the landscape. The available resources have been exploited to provide for local populations and sometimes the national interest if quarried on an industrial scale.

Now the majority of these local quarry sites have been abandoned, but it is still possible to identify these artificial landscape features all over the North York Moors. As well as having historic interest – sometimes you can see tool markings on a face, these sites have been re-colonised to some degree. Quarry sites provide refuges of uncultivated undisturbed land where since quarrying stopped unexpected plants and animals have moved in making the most of a habitat of rocky outcrops and thin low nutrient soil. These often isolated man-made sites can be extremely valuable for biodiversity such as cliff nesting birds like Peregrines and Kestrels and alpine plants like saxifrages.

Peacock butterfly, spotted in Boltby Quarry. Copyright Roy, McGhie, NYMNPA.


Quercus is the genus (Group) name for Oaks. There are two species of Oak found in the North York Moors – Pedunculate oak (Quercus robur) and Sessile oak (Quercus petraea) – as well as hybrids of the two. The difference between the two main species is that the acorns of Pedunculate oaks hang from stalks (peduncle) whilst Sessile oaks produce acorns directly from their twigs – so you have to look carefully to tell the difference. Pedunculate oak is also known as the English oak and the Common oak in this country because it has been so widespread in woodlands, hedgerows, fields and parkland. Sessile oaks tend to be found in upland areas in the UK, in places like wooded gills because they prefer dry soils.

Pedunculate Oak close up drawing from

Sessile Oak close up drawing from








Some of the most magnificent looking oaks in the North York Moors are Veteran Trees because oaks can last for hundreds of years if allowed to flourish in the right conditions. Oak woodlands are great biodiversity habitats for mammals, birds, invertebrates, fungi and lichen amidst the living and dead trees. Sunlight can penetrate the oak canopies to reach the ground and enable ground flora to flourish.

Upland oak woodland. Copyright NYMNPA.

Acorns are reasonably easy to propagate, by collecting local acorns to plant out in new woodlands the local provenance can be sustained hopefully for hundreds of more years.

Collected acorns to be propagated and planted. Copyright NYMNPA.


Quoits continues to be played competitively in the North York Moors through the Danby Invitation Quoits League and the North Yorkshire Moors League, in Esk Dale. The heavy metal quoits (originally two horseshoes forged together?) are thrown with the ultimate aim of encircling iron pins (‘hobs’), 11 yards away, set in a square of clay. Like all the best traditions there are lots of specific terms and rules used when it comes to playing e.g. a ‘Frenchman’ is the term for when the quoit lands underside (the ‘hole’ side) to the right of a hob.

Danby Quoit Club 1923 - from

Different versions of Quoits are played in different UK regions and countries. The variety played in the North York Moors is part of the northern England tradition which is also played in Swaledale, County Durham, Cleveland and Northumberland. It seems this north eastern sporting tradition, formalised in the 19th century, came out of a shared mining background and survived the end of that industry in the local area.

Quoit pitches are often located close to Public Houses or Village Halls, all focuses for social interaction. There are pitches (and matches)  in a number of villages in Esk Dale; a few years ago funding through the North York Moors, Coast and Hills LEADER programme (in a previous incarnation) helped restore the pitch in Fryup Dale.

Previously on the North York Moors A to Z … A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, M, N, O , P

A botanical Christmas

A festive rattle through some of the plants associated with Christmas – some of which, but decidedly not all, grow in the North York Moors…

Sam Witham – Conservation Research Student

Holly in the North York Moors - copyright Kirsty Brown, NYMNPA

Common holly Ilex aquifolium

Christmassy fact: Holly is well known as a festive winter decoration. The Romans sent holly branches with presents during the December festival of Saturnalia.

Other facts: ‘Holm’ is an old name for holly and is seen in place names such as Holmwood and Holmsdale.

UK Habitat: Woodland and hedgerows – it is commonly found as an understorey tree or shrub in oak and beech woods.

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Ivy in the North York Moors - copyright Kirsty Brown, NYMNPA

Common ivy Hedera Helix

Christmassy fact: Traditionally ivy is associated with holly (hence the song) and used in festive winter decorations.

Other facts: Ivy can be mistaken for two different species as the juvenile leaves look totally different to the adult ones. In some countries, where it has been introduced, it is classed as an invasive species.

Young ivy plant - Older ivy plant -

UK Habitat: Woodland and hedgerows, pretty much everywhere.

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Mistletoe -

European Mistletoe Viscum album

Christmassy fact: Mistletoe is used as a Christmas decoration and there is a long-held tradition of kissing underneath it. For each kiss made under a bough, a berry was removed.

Other facts: Mistletoe is semi-parasitic. In the UK, poplar, lime, apple and hawthorn are common hosts. Druids apparently used the plant as an aphrodisiac hence the association with kissing. The folklore around mistletoe is endless.

UK Habitat: Trees and Woodland, more prevalent in the south of Britain.

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Veteran Oak - Deer Park, Helmsley - copyright NYMNPA

Pedunculate oak Quercus robur

Christmassy fact: The Yule log, a special log burnt through the Christmas season, was traditionally cut from oak. Each Christmas a piece of the Yule log was saved to light the next year’s Yule log.

Other facts: Oaks are home to many species of wildlife and can live to a great age. The Oak plays an important role in British history/culture as a symbol of strength and steadfastness.

UK Habitat: Woodland, Wood Pasture and Parkland

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Growing 'Christmas Trees' in Scotland -

Christmas trees Various species including several Firs, Pines, Spruces, Cypresses and Cedars

Christmasy fact: The idea of the Christmas tree began in Germany as far back as the 15th and 16th centuries, where Christians brought decorated trees into their homes. Traditionally the tree was decorated with edibles such as apples, nuts and other foods. An angel or star is often placed at the top of the tree to represent the Archangel Gabriel or the Star of Bethlehem from the Nativity.

Other facts: There are about 600 conifer species and the group contains the world’s tallest tree (Redwood Sequoia sempervirens) and oldest tree (Great Basin bristlecone pine Pinus longaeva).

Habitat/distribution: Conifers occur on all continents except Antarctica, and are found in a wide range of habitats.

Other Christmas Trees…New Zealand Christmas Tree (Pōhutukawa) Metrosideros excelsa and the Western Australian Christmas Tree Nuytsia floribunda

New Zealand Christmas Tree -

Western Australian Christmas Tree -

Christmasy facts: These trees flower from October/November to January, hence being known as Christmas Trees.

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Frankinsence trees -

Frankincense tree Boswellia sacra

Christmassy fact: Frankincense is the valuable oily gum resin from Boswellia trees, named in the Bible as one of the three gifts given to the baby Jesus by the Three Wise Men.

Other facts: In ancient Egyptian mythology Frankincense was believed to be the sweat of gods fallen to earth. The legendary phoenix bird was believed to have built nests out of Frankincense twigs and feed upon ‘tears’ of the resin. In some Arab communities the gum is chewed to treat stomach problems. The gum can also be burnt as incense.

Habitat/distribution: Desert woodland, on rocky limestone slopes, and the ‘fog oasis’ woodlands of the southern coastal mountains of the Arabian Peninsula. Here in the summer months the mountains are covered in thick fog allowing a rich woodland flora to develop. Also native to Native to Ethiopia, northern Somalia, south-western Oman and southern Yemen.

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Commiphora spp -

Myrrh tree Commiphora guidottii

Christmassy fact: This particular myrrh tree is the source of the oleo-gum-resin (a mixture of volatile oil, gum and resin) known as scented myrrh which is suggested to be the myrrh named in the Bible as another of the three gifts the Three Wise Men presented to the baby Jesus.

Other facts: Together with Frankincense, myrrh is a common incense ingredient used in religious ceremonies. Ancient Egyptians used the gum resin to preserve mummies. Its antibiotic properties reduced decay and gave a sweet scent.

Habitat/distribution: Somalian and Ethiopian bushland.

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Helleborus niger -

Christmas rose (also known as Black hellebore) Helleborus niger

Christmassy fact: According to legend, a young shepherdess named Madelon was tending her sheep one cold and wintry night. As she watched over them, a group of wise men and other shepherds passed by, bearing gifts for the newly born Jesus. Madelon wept, because she had no gifts to bring the New-born King, not even a simple flower… An angel, upon hearing her weeping, appeared and brushed away the snow to reveal a most beautiful white flower tipped with pink – the Christmas Rose.

Other facts: An overdose of Hellebore medication has been suggested as the possible cause of death of Alexander the Great. The Christmas rose does not belong to the rose family (Rosaceae) – it in fact belongs to the buttercup family (Ranunculaceae)

Habitat/distribution: Mountainous woods and slopes. It is found in Switzerland, southern Germany, Austria, Slovenia, Croatia and northern Italy.

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Winter view looking south down Rosedale - copyright Ami Walker, NYMNPA

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from the North York Moors National Park

Hunting out Ancient Trees – in the North York Moors

Alasdair Fagan – Conservation Graduate Trainee

Alex (my fellow Conservation Graduate Trainee) and I have been tasked with the discovery, measurement and recording of each of the veteran trees on the Hawnby estate on the western side of the National Park. This is an area noted for its high proportion of tree cover which is a characteristic of the landscape in this part of the North York Moors.

Old/Notable/Ancient/Veteran Trees

Ancient and veteran trees are of high importance biologically as they support a diversity of different plants, birds, fungi, bats and insects. The Natural England FEP Guidance – Ancient Trees defines veteran and/or ancient trees as ‘Trees that are or look old relative to others of the same species’. Characteristics include:

  • Very large girth for the species
  • Hollow or hollowing trunk
  • A large quantity of dead wood in the canopy

The veteranisation of a mature tree is the first indication of the tree’s truly old age and as a part of this inevitable ageing, provides visual signs that the tree has begun to approach the end of its life (hundreds of years in the case of some trees) and in the meantime provides valuable habitats through processes like the decaying of wood.

Different species of trees have differing lifespans and so some tree species will reach maturity and veteran status much quicker (Silver birch for example) than those with longer life expectancy (such as Oak). A difference in the length of time it takes trees to veteranise is inherently valuable to the biodiversity of the area’s ecology, providing habitats for those organisms that depend on a continuous cycle and creation of veteran characteristics to survive.

The Survey

Data recorded from the Ancient Tree Hunt suggests that there are over 102,200 Veteran and Ancient trees in Britain, giving it the highest proportion of Ancient tree cover in the whole of Europe. But there are still parts of the country that have yet to be fully surveyed for these important trees.

This particular survey that Alex and I are carrying out on Hawnby estate involves identifying the species of each veteran tree and recording the tree’s girth, condition, any biological interests associated with the tree, and any threats currently posed to the tree that we might be able to address in order to ensure that it is able to endure for as long as possible.

We’ve used aerial photographs, and Ordnance Survey modern and historical maps (including from over 150 years ago) to establish areas where we suspect there may still be important, notable and veteran trees that aren’t yet part of the Ancient/Veteran tree current record.

We use GPS to record the location of each of the trees we record. Being able to see where veteran trees are across the North York Moors and being able to compare associated data allows us to build up a picture of this asset and to target efforts to keep the trees going as long as possible and at the same time to plant and manage new generations of trees nearby.

The search for veteran trees has so far proved eventful with a valuable opportunity to experience the beauty of the North York Moors National Park during autumn. We’re now up against the seasons as autumn has turned into winter and so it inevitably becomes harder to identify tree species without leaves.

An Unexpected Encounter

We also had a number of encounters with wildlife and the seasonal timing of the survey ensured that we got the chance to see many weird and wonderful species of Fungi.

Something that Mark the Woodland Officer here at the National Park told me when I first began: ‘whenever you look at a veteran tree, always make sure you walk all the way around it first’. Good advice indeed as it is often very easy to assume a tree is in good health when judging it on its appearance from one side, but on further inspection the other side may reveal that the tree is entirely hollow and well into its decline phase. Because of this advice, during the survey Alex and I decided to investigate what appeared to be a dead/relic branch that was still partly attached to the trunk of a tree but had clearly been removed forcefully by a weather event some time ago. As I approached the tree and leaned round the back to peer into the hollowing stem, my gaze was met by the bright yellow and beady eyes of a Common buzzard who was probably perching in the hollow whilst on the lookout for its next meal. The few silent seconds of disbelief (probably on both accounts) were then abruptly brought to an end as the impressive Bird of Prey turned, spread its wings and silently glided away to an alternative (more private) tree nearby.

Heritage of the North York Moors

Our Linking Landscapes programme aims to connect fragmented woodland habitats and areas of high ecological value. Veteran trees (and their associated ecology) have an important role. Many of our most notable and veteran trees are visible today in fields and along dry stone walls and hedges as remnants/relics of historical field boundaries, they remain important features of complex habitat networks throughout the landscape and as part of the programme we’re planting new in-field and boundary trees to ensure that tree habitats remain even when the veteran tree itself has died.

But the biodiversity value of veteran trees within our landscape is something which we cannot replace in the short term. Many species associated with the habitats provided by these trees are specialists and depend on veteran trees for their survival, either directly (beetle larvae living within, and feeding on, the freshly decaying wood) or indirectly (birds and bats regularly utilise the hollows associated with veteran trees for nesting and roosting sites).

It is important that we plan ahead and attempt to provide the best opportunity for the development of future generations of old and veteran trees that we can.

If you come across an Ancient/Veteran Tree – please tell the Ancient Tree Hunt. If you come across an Ancient/Veteran Tree in the North York Moors National Park – please let us know as well.

OAP Trees

Alasdair Fagan – Conservation Graduate Trainee

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

Indications that a tree might be of a great age include

  • 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.