Neighbourhood nature
Neighbourhood nature

Start this free course now. Just create an account and sign in. Enrol and complete the course for a free statement of participation or digital badge if available.

Free course

Neighbourhood nature

2.1 Characteristics of ancient trees

Trees have three stages in their lives – formative, full to late maturity (or veteran), and ancient. The length of these stages can vary depending on the species, the environment in which the tree has lived and what happens to it during its lifetime.

An ancient tree is one which is in the final stage of its life. It is old compared with others of the same species, and often has a wider trunk. (Recall from the clip 'Sherwood Forest' how the age of the tree was estimated by measuring the girth of the trunk.) Table 1 defines the minimum tree girth to distinguish ancient trees for different species. The canopy of an ancient tree is retrenching or 'growing downwards', giving the tree its distinctive squat, fat appearance, often with protruding deadwood and a hollowed trunk (Figure 6).

Table 1 Minimum trunk girths that can be counted as 'very large girth for the species' for a selection of tree species.

Trunk girth (minimum) Tree species
190 cm Birch species, hawthorn
240 cm Field maple, rowan, grey and goat willow, hornbeam, holly, cherry, alder
310 cm Oak species, ash, Scot's pine, yew, elm species
470 cm Lime species, sycamore, horse chestnut, poplar species, other pine species, beech, sweet chestnut, white and crack willows
Figure 6 Ancient tree features, showing the range of habitats provided for specialist species of fungi and insects.
Figure 6 Ancient tree features, showing the range of habitats provided for specialist species of fungi and insects.

Take your learning further

Making the decision to study can be a big step, which is why you'll want a trusted University. The Open University has 50 years’ experience delivering flexible learning and 170,000 students are studying with us right now. Take a look at all Open University courses.

If you are new to University-level study, we offer two introductory routes to our qualifications. You could either choose to start with an Access module, or a module which allows you to count your previous learning towards an Open University qualification. Read our guide on Where to take your learning next for more information.

Not ready for formal University study? Then browse over 1000 free courses on OpenLearn and sign up to our newsletter to hear about new free courses as they are released.

Every year, thousands of students decide to study with The Open University. With over 120 qualifications, we’ve got the right course for you.

Request an Open University prospectus371