- trees of interest biologically, aesthetically or culturally because of their great age
- trees in the ancient stage of their life
- trees that are old relative to others of the same species
It is difficult to precisely define the term 'veteran tree' but the term encompasses trees defined by three guiding principles
All veteran trees are of historic interest, each is a survivor from the past, a relic of a former landscape. In addition to their importance as natural habitats, they are a valuable part of our cultural heritage. Each tree, or group of trees, deserves individual consideration and study, perhaps combined with document-based research in local and national archives to enable us to understand fully its historic context and importance.
Veteran trees are important because
- they have aesthetic appeal and cause inspiration
- they may have a particular historic link, ie be associated with a specific person or event
- they often illustrate past land use or cultural landscapes. Eg veteran trees are often found on wooded commons, in parkland, as boundary or field markers and in ancient farmland landscapes.
- they are especially important for biological reasons, providing conditions suitable for a wide range of other plants and animals, many of which require the very special environment created in an old tree.
Threats to Veteran Trees
There is a tendency to view old trees as immutable and immortal. They have demonstrated their resilience to past threats but some of the potential threats of today have no precedent or are on a scale that may oustrip the ability of the trees to adapt. Vigilance is needed to identify future threats. Those most commonly encountered today are
- felling - to obtain wood, for safety reasons, to 'improve' tidyness, change in landscape use
- competition from surrounding trees, both planted and naturally occurring
- neglect - lapsed pollards having heavy branches that the tree is unable to support
- inappropriate past management eg girdling from chains and iron bands, filling cavities with concrete
- unskilled tree surgery
- inappropriate management of surrounding land eg ploughing close to trees, agricultural sprays and fertilisers, or root damage caused by construction, trenching, cable laying etc.
- trampling/soil compaction caused by livestock, people or vehicles
- bark damage caused by people, vehicles or livestock
- pollution - remote, from industry and traffic, or localised, from toxic rubbish such as oil and chemicals close to the tree, salt on roadside trees or nitrogen enrichment owing to manure and compost heaps.
Management of Veteran Trees
Management of veteran trees is often needed to ensure that the threats do not cause the loss of the trees and the value associated with them. Active management may not involve doing very much most of the time. The essential point is that the trees and their situation are checked at regular intervals and management carried out only if it is necessary.