Think of the oldest person you know. How old are they 80, 90 or even 100 years old? And now try to imagine a living thing that is 20 times that age. That’s how old the oldest trees in Britain are including the *Ankerwyck Yew in the ruined priory of Ankerwyck in Berkshire. If you are finding it difficult to visualise just how old that really is then see the footnote in this blog.
There are probably more than 400 yew trees in Britain that are over 1,000 years old and you will often find them in churchyards because over the years they have provided a “safe haven” for the trees. Yew was for centuries acknowledged as the most suitable wood for making longbows but churchyards were considered out-of-bounds even for Robin Hood and his Merry Men!
It’s not only yews that live to be a great age. There is an oak tree in Bourne, Lincolnshire that is reliably estimated to be over 1,000 years old and several conifers and sweet chestnuts dotted all over the country are reckoned to also have lived for a millennium.
The age of a tree is most reliably deduced by counting the “rings” when it has been cut down. To see various examples of this you might like to Google “age of a tree” and then click on images to see some very interesting photographs. We know there are always 365 or 366 days in a year so you might expect every ring to be equally spaced but this is not the case…
In dry and cold years, trees do not grow so quickly and the rings will be more tightly spaced whereas wet and warm years produce abundant growth with the result that rings are more widely spaced. Many experts believe that the reason Stradivarius violins are so much better than others is because the spruce, willow and maple that the master used grew during a series of very dry, cold years and the wood was therefore more dense.
Trees don’t have to be old to be beautiful. Almost certainly there will be woods near you in which you can enjoy lovely walks and all because of a wonderful organization called the Woodland Trust. These people not only preserve and manage over 1,000 sites around the UK but they do everything they can to encourage YOU to use them. The Woodland Trust love their woods and they want you to do the same. Visit their find a wood page, pop in your postcode and be amazed at how many woods are near you that you are welcome to visit and adore.
Before you visit your next wood, why not see if you can identify some of the trees that you are likely to come across by playing our British Trees quiz? Can you score 10-out-of-10?