Trees and shrubs as individuals, in groups or woods, make our countryside, towns and cities beautiful and give us free national spectacles – blackthorn spring, a bluebell haze, autumn colour. They refresh the air we breathe, improve soil health, play host to multitudes of other species and provide innumerable other benefits. They have been painted, photographed, filmed, written and sung about by artists, writers, poets and singers down the centuries. Every aspect of our lives is touched; they add great pleasure to our lives and are central to our physical and mental well-being. The UK has an historic treescape that is still rich in ancient trees and old-growth –such as Caledonian pine forest, Sherwood Forest and other mediaeval woods, parks and commons. These are habitats full of old, open grown trees, with an associated rich and unique wildlife not found elsewhere. Few trees make it to old age and the species that are reliant on them are also rare and becoming ever more threatened. According to the IUCN almost 20% of wood-decay beetles are at risk of extinction due to ongoing decline in large veteran trees across Europe. 1 Older, larger, open grown trees are generally the most loved and often associated with particular places, people, or historic events, but despite being the trees that serve us most and longest, they are the most vulnerable. Why is that? Is it that they appear to be common and found everywhere, eternal, unchanging, just part of the background to our lives and taken for granted until a favourite tree or woodland is threatened directly by development or by disease? It needs everyone to step up and do more – individuals, owners of trees and woods, NGOs and government. From earliest times, trees were highly valued for practical reasons, for pleasure and often as statements of status. Monarchs surveyed the land to understand the extent and condition of this resource and passed laws to protect trees and forests and their wildlife in their own and national interest. Modern regulation – felling licenses, tree preservation orders, conservation areas, wildlife acts and associated policies mostly do the same today. However, valuable trees and woods can still slip through the net and are increasingly doing so through the lack of resources and skills to manage them effectively. There is a lack of political will to apply regulation and monitor where regulation is failing. Safeguarding important trees and shrubs in the 21 st century cries out for new measures aimed at celebrating their value to society, reducing conflict and supporting their guardians. Trees are not just nice; they are essential to all of us.

JILL BUTLER, ANCIENT TREE SPECIALIST

References:
1. Cálix, M., Alexander, K.N.A., Nieto, A., Dodelin, B., Soldati, F., Telnov, D., et al. (2018). European Red List of Saproxylic Beetles. Brussels, Belgium: IUCN. Available at: 
http://www.iucnredlist.org/initiatives/europe/publications(Accessed 12/09/2018)