Trees have survived bulldozers, woodcutters’ axes and, for hundreds of years, the worst the weather can throw at them.
But the remnants of Britain’s ancient forests, which once stretched shore to shore, are fragile – and not officially preserved unless building work is planned around them.
You might expect these natural cathedrals, some more than 1,000 years old, to be defended with the utmost care. But they have little, if any, protection.
Many harbour history beneath their boughs – the apple tree where Newton devised his theory of gravity, the Sherwood Forest oak said to have sheltered Robin Hood, and others forming local myths and legends. Some mark parish boundaries or host rare wildlife.
Conservationists are calling for the Government to draw up laws to safeguard these trees. The campaign, by the Woodland Trust and Country Living magazine, is demanding a national tree register to protect them against destruction and development.
Jill Butler, ancient tree specialist at the Woodland Trust, said: ‘We are still coming across enormous oaks that are more than eight metres in girth and estimated to be up to 700 years old.
‘These trees are hugely valuable to us – they are embodiments of our past and features that make our landscape distinctive.
‘By starting a national register, we can really cherish and protect more great specimens.’
Although councils can issue tree preservation orders, they are only usually used as a reactive measure when a tree is threatened by a building project.
A register would run on a model similar to that of listed buildings, pre-empting plans to cut down the trees.
Before the 1913 Ancient Monuments Consolidation and Amendment Act led to the creation of our listing system, many spectacular country houses were abandoned or demolished.
Now 375,000 buildings are recognised for their architectural or historical value – and a tree register would work in a similar way.
A spokesman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: ‘Ancient woodlands and trees of special interest play an important role in contributing to our landscape and cultural heritage, and we have robust safeguards in place to protect them.’