Good Woods helps nurture the next generation of veteran trees at Kingston University

posted on September 18, 2013

A Good Woods advisory visit to Kingston University has helped advise on the management of the next generation of veteran trees in woodland surrounding the Kingston Hill campus.

Alistair Yeomans of the Sylva Foundation met with Rachel Burgess, Biodiversity and Landscape Administrator at the university, who is responsible for woodland and other landscape features. Over half of the 16ha Kingston Hill campus is closed canopy semi-natural deciduous woodland. Growing throughout the woodland are many mature trees which form one of the most notable features of the predominantly wooded landscape that greets you when you arrive at the campus.

Woodland Nature Trail at Kingston University

The Woodland Nature Trail at Kingston University – information boards explaining the value of veteran trees

One of the principal aims for the woodland is to enable students and staff at Kingston University to learn about trees, and a woodland walk with information boards has been created to help fulfil this aim. Additionally Rachel organises volunteer groups of staff and students to carry out work in the woodlands.

Veteran trees and UK Forestry Standard

Promoting the United Kingdom Forestry Standard (UKFS) to woodland owners is an integral part of the Good Woods advisory visits. The UKFS offers guidelines for the management of veteran trees:

Retain and manage existing veteran trees and select and manage suitable individuals to eventually take their place’.

There are two elements to this guidance, firstly the identification and management of existing veteran trees and importantly, and often overlooked, the identification and management of the next generation of veteran trees. Compared to many historic environment features, veteran (or ancient) trees are often forgotten parts of our cultural heritage and many are not recorded or actively managed.

What is a veteran tree?

The term veteran tree is not precisely defined, however a tree may be regarded as a veteran due to:

  • great age;
  • great age relative to others of the same species;
  • existing in an ancient stage of life or due to its biological, aesthetic or cultural interest.

Size alone does help identify veteran trees, however different species may have different rates of growth or natural life spans. Management practices such as coppicing may make the identification of the true age of the coppice stool difficult to gauge. For this reason, the species, relative ages, management practice, aesthetic, cultural and biological importance should all be taken into account when surveying or assessing potential veteran trees. Natural England have produced helpful information on how to identify a tree with veteran status (see below).

Woodland management and veteran trees

mature oak growing in the Kingston Hill woodland

Rachel Burgess, Kingston University’s biodiversity and landscape administrator, pointing out a mature oak growing in the Kingston Hill woodland.

Given the high value of the Kingston Hill woodland, especially given its urban location, many of the trees in the woodland have Tree Preservation Orders and as such have been identified, carefully mapped and recorded by Rachel. During the Good Woods advisory visit Alistair and Rachel discussed the benefits of creating a woodland management plan through the myForest service. The myForest planning template is based on Forestry Commission England’s woodland management planning grant requirements. The planning approach should take into account and detail management prescriptions for the veteran trees growing in the wood. Such prescriptions may include ‘halo thinning’ of trees, which involves the removal of younger competing trees from the immediate area surrounding the selected tree so that it continues to receive the light and space needed to thrive.

All of the woodland areas were briefly surveyed, a process which identified characteristics that indicated that some areas of the woodland were once managed as coppice-with-standards, and other areas where trees possibly grew in a more open parkland environment. This seems to be the case when looking at older maps for the site which showed a more open pasture habitat in some of the sub-compartments.

Significant areas of the woodland have rhododendron and holly growing in them. Kingston University is reducing the amount of rhododendron in particular as they can be detrimental to veteran trees when the bushes become large enough. Being shade tolerant they can grow very close to the trunk of the veteran and compete for water in dry years. They are also serious competitors for light when tall. As they cast a deep shade all year round. However it is worth noting that care is required when removing vegetation from around a veteran so that sudden removal does not result in excess desiccation of the trunk.

The next generation of veteran trees

Alistair and Rachel considered long-term management of veteran trees on the site. This might involve identifying the next generation of veteran trees across the compartments and ensuring that the conditions surrounding them promotes their growth.

The Kingston Hill woodland is principally managed for biodiversity and amenity value, however within broadleaved woodlands that have a more productive focus, considering the following points will help ensure that trees are selected to grow into the veterans of the future:

  • Aim for  5 – 10 veteran trees per hectare.
  • Keep trees that will not be in the way or become hazards to the public in the future, will not become over-topped by crop trees and are close to areas with conservation interest, e.g. plentiful dead wood, glades.
  • Encourage the trees to develop a full crown.
  • Consider creating pollarded trees, if a full crown is not appropriate, but remember that they will need to be managed in the future.
  • Select native, longer-lived species such as oak, ash and beech. Retain some others such as, willow, wild service and other fruit trees, which are valuable as nectar sources or have a distinct invertebrate fauna. Bear in mind that the harvesting of the crop trees will have a large impact on retained trees, especially if the crop is coniferous.

Further reading

Good Woods - for people, for nature

Visit the Good Woods web page

The Good Woods project is a novel project aiming to breathe new life into UK woodlands. The project—a joint initiative between DIY giant B&Q, sustainability charity BioRegional and forestry charity The Sylva Foundation—will revive woodlands to provide environmental, social and economic benefits. For more information contact Amy Hammond:

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