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Looking after our veteran trees at Ashridge Estate

Tree in a buttercup meadow, with Bridgewater monument in the distance at Ashridge Estate, Hertfordshire
Tree in a buttercup meadow at Ashridge Estate | © National Trust Images/John Millar

Veteran trees are old trees which are notable for their features, and they play an important part in our ecosystem. Read about the work the ranger team are doing to protect these trees, and how you can help.

Fall of a giant

In 2015, Ashridge Estate’s most famous tree, the Frithsden Beech, cleaved in two. There was nothing that could have been done for this star of many films, including Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Les Miserables and Sleepy Hollow. But it was a wake-up call that the work already started to look after the estate’s veteran trees should be prioritised.

Size of the task in hand

The Ashridge ranger team have identified over 1,000 ancient and veteran trees that would benefit from help. A veteran tree is not quite the same as an ancient one. It can be hard to tell the age of an ancient tree but an oak would not be considered to be ancient until it was at least 400 years old.

Veteran trees are old trees which are notable for their features. ‘These could be dead branches, holes, hollows, areas of rot or a fork with a watery pool,’ explains Ashridge’s ranger Ben Byfield.

The important of veteran trees

Veterans are vital because ‘they play such an important role in the ecosystem and support so many rare species,’ says Ben. ‘Invertebrates associated with old trees are incredibly fussy as to where they like to live. It could be in a rot pocket, in deeply fissured bark or in the hollow trunk. Young trees just don’t have that same diversity of habitats.’

Throughout Europe ancient and veteran trees are now rare. Ashridge is a nationally important site for these trees and their associated rare species.

Halo-releasing

Research into ‘halo-releasing’ to prolong the life of veterans has been going on for the last 30 years. Haloing is based on the theory that as trees age, they become less tolerant of shade. When trees that began life in an open area become surrounded by younger trees, they suffer due to a lack of light. If the lower branches are shaded out by saplings, their lives can be shortened by 100 years.

An ancient oak tree at Ashridge Estate, Hertfordshire
Ancient oak tree at Ashridge Estate | © National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

How it's done

Area ranger Chrissy and her team clear the encroaching trees that have grown up around the veterans in a 5m halo around the tree. Five years later, a further 5m band is cleared. ‘We do it gradually so as not to ‘shock’ the tree,’ she says, ‘They’re very sensitive to changes in wind dynamics and humidity, so we have to be gentle or we could end up hastening their demise.’

‘Haloing is the exact opposite of automated commercial felling. You need to be careful not to clatter the veteran with the tree you’re removing,’ explains Chrissy. ‘We use hand chainsaws and keep the heavy machinery as far away as possible to avoid ground compaction so that we don’t damage the roots or reduce the air pockets in the soil.’

Donate now

Haloing is slow, technical work and costs around £500 per tree. With 1,000 veterans to treat, Ashridge is welcoming donations for the work. If you would like to help, you can email us.

‘It feels important. Ashridge is such a special place and these trees should long outlive us. On a personal level, I feel it’s a huge privilege to spend my working life making a difference and maintaining it for the future.’

- Chrissy Hardy, Area Ranger

View of a large frithsden beech tree in the middle of the Forest at Ashridge Estate, Hertfordshire
Large frithsden beech tree at Ashridge Estate | © National Trust Images/Paul Wakefield

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Restoring ancient woodland at Ashridge Estate

A major project is underway at Ashridge Estate to restore 42 hectares ancient woodland on a scale rarely seen before by the National Trust. Find out more about this ambitious and important project.

Commemorative giving at Ashridge Estate

It is a lovely idea to commemorate a loved one in a place that was special to them and holds fond memories for you. You can help to protect and conserve this treasured place in memory of your loved one.

Veteran Tree Fund

Ashridge is home to over a thousand ancient and veteran trees that require on-going conservation work. Donations usually range from around £200 to £500 and are kept in a special fund to enable us to continue with this important work.

Commemorative Tree Planting

Each year we have a small number of trees available for commemorative planting within Ashridge Park and the wider estate. All of the trees are grown at our onsite nursery. Please note that the tree-planting needs to take place during the winter season.

We ask for a minimum donation of £750 per commemorative tree. This includes the protective box, the tree and a replacement should it fail to thrive in the first five years.

General notes

We regret we do not allow commemorative plaques or engravings on benches, trees, or tree boxes. This is because we have found they are very prone to vandalism and we prefer all elements of the estate to be presented as naturally as possible.

You will be provided with a commemorative certificate that you can keep at home. We can agree a suitable form of wording with you at the time.

Contact us about making a commemorative gift

You can phone us on 01442 841800 or email us at ashridge@nationaltrust.org.uk.

View of wider landscape from Ivinghoe Beacon on Ashridge Estate, Hertfordshire

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