New campaign to give the UK’s ancient trees legal protection

15/6/2022 | By Josef Jarý
Photo by: @Credits WTML Jill Jennings - The Allerton Oak was winner of Tree of the Year 2019 in England and came 7th in the European competition.

The Woodland Trust has launched a petition calling for legally protected status for the UK’s oldest and most important trees – our living legends.
The UK’s ancient trees are internationally important. Several trees are more than a thousand years old. Our oldest yew trees are estimated to be more than two thousand years old. One study reports there are 115 very large ancient oaks in the UK, compared to 98 in all the countries of Europe combined. This partly due to the history of land ownership including medieval deer parks and royal hunting forests which has helped to protect areas of land rich in old open-grown trees .

Despite this rich heritage of trees in the UK most ancient trees have no legal protection.
Some basic protection is given to trees through existing polices, guidance and legal instruments. Some of these are:

  • Tree preservation orders which can be placed on a threatened tree with amenity value (where a tree is a desirable feature of a place). A TPO cannot be placed on a tree solely for its wildlife value.
  • Some government policies such as in planning, which guide how decisions are made about new developments.
  • Tree owners and communities protecting & caring for their trees
But protection is inconsistent and difficult to enforce.

As a society we protect what we value, and we value what we protect. Rightly, the principle of protection for our oldest buildings and wildlife, and other national treasures, is long-established in the UK. But at present our oldest buildings, some of which are built from ancient trees which still survive today, are better protected than trees which have witnessed so much history. It’s time for that to change.

The Woodland Trust, Tree of The Year organisers in the UK are campaigning for:

  1. Legally protected heritage status for our most important ancient trees
  2. Strong, consistent policy protection for old trees in each country of the UK
  3. More support for land managers to care for ancient and veteran trees 
We’ve been inspired by progress made elsewhere including in Italy where 22,000 monument trees have been given federal protection. This demonstrates it is possible for nations to choose to important protect ancient trees in law. Now is the time for the UK to act and protect its own monumental trees, too.
We would be very grateful if you could show your support for the campaign and sign the petition.
Thank you!

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