Britain's tallest native tree

Published : 28 Sep 2015 Last update : 20 Nov 2015

A beech tree in Newtimber Woods on the Devil’s Dyke estate in West Sussex has been declared the tallest native tree in Britain. Measuring a staggering 44m tall (144ft), the champion tree is thought to be almost 200 years old.

Finding a record breaker

The discovery was made by Dr Owen Johnson, Registrar for the Tree Register, a unique record of ancient and notable trees in Britain and Ireland. He was alerted to the possible record breaker by dendrologist Peter Bourne.

‘I didn't quite believe Peter when he said the tallest tree in the woods could be 44 metres tall as I know the South Downs well,’ said Dr Johnson. ‘But I found my scepticism entirely unjustified!’

‘It's amazing how you can go on discovering marvellous trees, almost on your doorstep,’ he added. ‘It's also strange and fascinating that this one beech, which must have very good genes, has managed to grow so much taller than all of its rivals in the same conditions.’

A surprising woodland

Set within a valley, the Newtimber Woods beech is one of a clump of trees planted together. Its great height is a result of continued competition to reach the light and the fact it has been allowed to grow without any management for at least the last 90 years.

‘This breathtaking woodland has been coppiced for a thousand years or more and it’s wonderful to think that it’s now home to the tallest wild tree in Britain,’ said Charlie Cain, ranger for the Devil’s Dyke estate. ‘Spring is the perfect time to come and see this champion as the trees come into leaf and carpets of woodland flowers arrive.’

The new record holder eclipses the previous champion native tree from Gloucestershire, also a beech, which is a metre shorter. At nearly two centuries old the Newtimber Woods beech is reaching the upper limit of a beech tree’s life expectancy.

A champion in good company

We look after more than 30,000 notable or veteran trees across the 25,000 hectares (61,776 acres) of woodland and 135 countryside sites within our care thanks to our ranger teams and thousands of dedicated outdoor volunteers.

While the beech in Newtimber Woods is the tallest native tree in Britain, it isn’t the tallest tree that we look after. This title is awarded to a Douglas fir, a non-native tree, found at Cragside in Northumberland, which measures 61m (200ft).

This article was first published on 16 April 2015