Relics of Ages Past

Last week Kate, Wayne and myself spent a day at the National Trust’s Fountains Abbey near Ripon in North Yorkshire for a day of training with Brian Muelaner, the National Trust’s Ancient Tree Adviser.


Fountains Abbey is a World Heritage Site set in 323 hectares (800 acres) of beautiful countryside, offering an unparalleled opportunity to appreciate the variety of England’s heritage.

Within the grounds there are some truly stunning trees on show, many of them ancient. During the training we visited a number of them.

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Ancient trees are special. The main collections in the UK are well known, but there are thousands of individual trees scattered around the countryside, largely unknown.

These trees are internationally important, but without factual information we just don’t know to what degree. By gathering factual information about these remarkable trees we can demonstrate their European importance.

The National Trust has signed an agreement with the Woodland Trust to contribute to their Ancient Tree Hunt – the aim to help ensure such trees are managed in a sympathetic way by identifying issues and best practice as well as to engage with the public – everyone seems to empathise with truly ancient trees!

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The term ‘ancient tree’ encompasses:

• Trees of interest biologically, aesthetically or culturally because of their great age

• Trees in the ancient or third and final stage of their life

• Trees that are the old relative to others of the same species

Some ancient trees are instantly recognisable, others are less obvious. Like people, trees grow and age at different rates depending on where they are and what happens to them during their lifetime.


And why are they special? Well, ancient trees are living relics of ages past! They create in us feelings of awe and mystery.

They support wildlife that cannot live anywhere else, offering a range of habitats within their crown, stem and roots. As well as general appeal, they may be adopted by ‘specialist’ species which rely on very particular conditions. These specialists include insects, fungi, lichen, ferns and bryophytes.

Over the centuries, they have inspired numerous artists, writers, poets and scientists and are mentioned in sacred texts.

They’re the lifeblood of the countryside, towers of incomprehsible experience and history, monuments to the past.

A poem by Heidi Stephenson rounds up why trees in general are so special:

‘In a world without trees,
There would be no more leaves
And our homes would be open
To burglars and thieves.

In a world without pine
You might think we’d be fine
But we’d have little sense
Of the passing of time.

In a world without beech
There’d be nothing to teach
Of the MAGICAL way
That the trees reach and reach.

In a world without oak
There would be no wood smoke
To lift hearts and cold noses
When bad weather broke.

In a world without ash
There’d be nowhere to dash
When the rain came a-pouring
And started to lash.

In a world without pear
All the orchards are bare
No more sweet, golden fruit
For all beings to share.

In a world without thorn
All the field-mice would mourn
For the loss of a place
For their young to be born

In a world without larch
The green land would soon parch
From the absence of root-water
Drunk during March.

In a world without elm
There’d be none at the helm
To transform our stale CO2
Throughout the realm.

In a world without glade
There would be no more shade
And we’d shrivel and burn
In the heat that we’d made.

In a world without grove
There would be no more mauve
No more green, orange, yellow;
No more logs for the stove.
No more berries and seeds,
No more acorns, nuts, reeds;
Just a wasteland of loneliness,
Because of man’s greed.

In a world without trees
We’d be brought to our knees.
So let’s save them, let’s plant them
Let’s honour them, please!’


Chris | National Trust

Chris | National Trust


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