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Surveying Ancient Trees

Learning the value of veteran trees for biodiversity on farmland...

An ancient Oak | © Sarah Spurling

Early December saw members of the Cranborne Chase Farmer Cluster meet with community volunteers to learn how to survey the veteran trees that make up a striking part of their historic estates and parklands.

Sarah Spurling from Dorset Council and Purbeck's Precious Past project donated a day of her time to train small teams of these volunteers, who will now work together going forward to survey sites within the cluster. 

Dorset's 'Purbeck's Precious Past' project is enhancing understanding of Purbeck's ancient trees and wildlife, aiming to expand this knowledge and protect local tree heritage. It engages stakeholders and communities through citizen science to help preserve these trees for the future.

Additionally, the project involves collecting seeds from historic trees, cultivating new saplings, and using them in planting programmes enriching local woodlands and hedges.

Lime seed collection | courtesy of Purbeck’s Precious Past

More Information

Ancient trees are invaluable to UK biodiversity, especially on farmlands, where they serve as critical ecological anchors in several ways. They provide unique habitats for a variety of species - with their complex structures, including hollows, cracks, and crevices, offering shelter and breeding sites for birds, bats, and invertebrates that newer trees cannot. This complexity increases over time, making ancient trees increasingly important for biodiversity.

Ancient trees also act as biodiversity hotspots, supporting a wider range of species than younger trees. This is due to the varied microhabitats they offer and the longevity of their presence in the landscape, allowing ecological communities to stabilize and diversify. They're often associated with rare and specialist species not found in other habitats.

Beyond biodiversity, ancient trees provide essential ecosystem services such as carbon storage, air and water purification, and soil stabilisation. Their extensive root systems are crucial for soil health, promoting microbial diversity and aiding in nutrient cycling.

The trees also serve as living repositories of genetic diversity, offering resilience to environmental changes and diseases. This genetic reservoir is vital for the adaptation and survival of tree populations in the face of climate change.

In agricultural landscapes, ancient trees can form natural corridors and stepping stones for wildlife, facilitating movement and dispersal across fragmented habitats. This connectivity is essential for maintaining genetic diversity and ecosystem resilience.

Their presence enhances the cultural landscape, often holding significant historical and cultural value. This can foster a stronger connection between people and their natural environment, promoting conservation efforts. We only have to think about the passionate global response to loss of the famous 300-year old 'Sycamore Gap' tree in Northumbria, UK, to realise their magic!

WikiCommons | By - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

By preserving and integrating ancient trees within farmland, farmers and landowners can contribute significantly to conserving the UK's biodiversity, ensuring the survival of a multitude of species and the health of ecosystems.

For those interested in learning more about the conservation of ancient trees in the UK and how to get involved - the Woodland Trust offers extensive information on ancient trees, including how to identify, conserve, and report them. They run the Ancient Tree Inventory, a living database of ancient trees across the UK.

The Ancient Tree Forum is also worth a look, this initiative focuses on the preservation and protection of the UK's ancient trees, providing resources to support conservation efforts.


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