The veteran trees of Leigh Woods

A veteran Lime coppard in Leigh Woods

Leigh Woods was historically part of the Ashton Court Estate, a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), to the west. These two sites have one of the largest populations of veteran trees in the South West.

Here at Leigh Woods we have over 500 veteran trees. The southern part of Leigh Woods was historically wood pasture, where open areas of grassland were interspersed with trees and scrub, the trees were either pollarded regularly or left as maidens.

Pollarding is a traditional management technique of cutting a tree 2-3 metres above the ground out of reach of livestock to produce new small branches, which can then be harvested for animal feed and firewood. It is a practice which has generally lapsed across the Country and has resulted in the trees here at Leigh Woods becoming very large and impressive. 

What is an ancient tree?

An ancient tree is a tree which is remarkably old for its species, this can vary dramatically depending on the species. All ancient trees are also known as veterans.

Veteran trees are trees which have features of ancientness but at a younger age.
These features include missing branches, hollow trunks and habitat features more commonly associated with ancient trees.

What makes ancient and veteran trees so special?

Ancient trees are extremely important historically speaking - they’re living archaeology. They provide evidence of historic land use such as a wood pasture or royal hunting forest.

To add to that, they have amazing character and beauty and they’re incredibly rich in wildlife. One ancient oak has more biodiversity than a thousand 100-year-old oaks. They’re particularly special for their fungi, deadwood, invertebrates and lichen.

How can I recognise one?

Like people, trees develop more character with age, but just in tree time. They start missing branches, they develop fissured bark and they may get hollow trunks, fatter middles and thinner, smaller crowns.

Caring for our veterans

Our veteran trees are carefully managed to balance the longevity of the tree and the care of the species on which it is home. As a result, you will see trees with dead limbs and wood that is left where it has fallen. Rotting dead wood is very important to the tree and the woodland in general, as it replenishes nutrients in the soil which are needed by the trees.

Veteran trees can easily be over-shaded by younger trees, it is for this reason we remove younger trees from around them, this has to be done gradually over a number of years, as sudden exposure to lots of sunlight can shock or scorch them.  You may have noticed metal tags on their trunks, this is so we can keep a record of what work we have done and when we need to do more.

Our small herd of cattle are also helping by sensitively grazing the area around these trees suppressing the regrowth of scrub and encouraging grasses and herbs to grow.

Occasionally we need to carry out tree surgery, to prevent these trees from splitting apart.

Please help us to look after and protect these old and fragile trees by not climbing or building dens against them, these activities cause damage to their bark.