skip to main content
  • A
  • A
  • A

Trees of Interest

The BMERC team is currently surveying trees of special interest within Buckinghamshire, in order to assess their presence and extent in the county.

What is a Veteran Tree?

If you ask many amateurs and professionals the question “What is a veteran tree?” you may receive a variety of answers, as the definition of a veteran tree is not precise. The following are some key terms when discussing trees of special interest:

Ancient tree: A tree which has passed beyond maturity and is old in comparison to other trees within the same species.

Veteran tree: A tree of biological, aesthetic, or cultural interest because of its size, age and condition; containing some ancient characteristics.

Heritage tree: A tree which has contributed to or is connected to our history and culture.

Notable tree: A tree that significantly stands out in the local or regional environment.

Champion tree: These are trees that are the tallest or with the widest girth in a given region.

Some people use the chronological ages of the trees to define an ancient tree, as an ancient tree is a tree that has reached a great age in comparison with others of the same species. For example, a Birch tree can be considered ancient at the age of 150 years, whereas an Oak tree is not considered ancient until it is at least 400 years old.

The age of the tree can be difficult to estimate, therefore considering the ancient characteristics of the tree can also be a useful method to determine whether a tree is ancient and/or veteran.

Ancient Characteristics

Veteran trees are in their mature stages of life, generally being older trees. All ancient trees will be veteran but not all veteran trees can be ancient. There is potential overlapping of classification for an individual tree.

Both veteran and ancient trees can show ancient characteristics, such as:

  • Water holes/pockets
  • Hollowing
  • Large girth in comparison with its species
  • Epicormics growth
  • Tears/scars
  • Evidence of decay and rot
  • Cavities
  • The crown has retrenched through age
  • Wide trunk
  • An "old" aesthetic appeal
  • Dead wood

The more characteristics the tree has, the more likely it is to be ancient.

The Ancient Tree Forum have produced a guide to help people recognise trees that have special interest and to help justify why a tree (or group of trees) stands out from others of the same species. You can view and download the guide on their website (external link).

Importance of Ancient and Veteran Trees


Ancient and veteran trees provide a valuable habitat to wildlife. This special habitat may take several centuries to become a suitable home for many rare invertebrates and fungi, developing complex inter-relationships. Veteran trees are an essential food resource: invertebrates associated with decaying wood become food themselves for mammals and birds. It is therefore vital to conserve these trees.

Cultural significance

Trees can also have heritage value, as part of our history and culture. Over the many years we have connected with certain trees that appeal to us because of their character, aesthetic appearance, landscape setting or botanical interest. Trees can also have significant cultural importance, such as old parish boundary markers.

Threats to trees

Poor practices and management

Traditional practices are becoming lost in communication and potential bad practice plans to cut them harshly or even fell have risen. Knowledge of maintaining a traditional pollard or coppice is vanishing. The result can be serious damage or death of these trees.

Increasing population

Pressures are rising for increased food production and infrastructure development to accommodate the increasing population. This causes stress on the tree roots as farmers are cultivating or building are being planned too close.

Pests and diseases

There are many threats to trees, such as Sudden Oak Death or the recent cases of Ash dieback.

Why are we surveying Trees of Interest?

Some of the oldest and largest living organism on Earth are trees. Ancient and veteran trees have value as an important regional and local genetic resource, with vast knowledge from past land managements.

In many parts of the world ancient and veteran trees have become very rare. There are some still left in the UK, but they are struggling to survive with the present threats. To conserve and protect these special trees of interest, we need record them to ensure the continuity of the ancient tree populations and for people to understand their value.

To get involved

If you know of any trees of special interest with ancient characteristics within Buckinghamshire and you would like to be included in our records, please contact us.

Please send us your name, contact details and the date you saw the tree. In addition we need a location (preferably a 6 figure grid reference). The following additional information is also helpful:

  • Owner of the land
  • Is the tree accessible to the public (Y/N)
  • Species
  • Characteristics of the tree (as described above)
  • Habitat (eg: garden, fields)
  • Management (eg: low/high intensity, pruning, etc)
  • Photograph(s) of the tree

You can also download and use this Trees of Interest Recording Form (word document) if you would like.

To request this Recording Form in a different format, or if you would like more information about this project, please contact us.

Not sure how to find your 6 figure grid reference? The Bedfordshire Natural History Society has a helpful website to convert postcodes or map locations to grid references, Grab a Grid Reference (external website).

Further information

You can learn more about Ancient and Veteran trees from the following organisations (external websites):

Ancient Tree Forum:

Woodland Trust Ancient Tree Inventory: