Trees are something to talk about

TREES in Suffolk are very special – in fact they tree-ly unique!Volunteer helpers in the county have played a role in showing how important trees in East Anglia to tree studies across the world.

By James Fraser

TREES in Suffolk are very special – in fact they tree-ly unique!

Volunteer helpers in the county have played a role in showing how important trees in East Anglia to tree studies across the world.

Ancient oak trees in Suffolk are quite singular because they display genes – the building blocks of nature - that are different to oaks on the Continent.

"Southern England plays host to a staggering 90 per cent of northern Europe's veteran trees," said David Mitchell, landscape officer at Mid Suffolk district council. "It's a statistic that has implications for our region - but what cements Suffolk and Norfolk's position on the national and international arboricultural map is our unique heritage of ancient oak."

Prompted by the ground-breaking research conducted by Leicester University, Mid Suffolk District Council became the first council in the county to be field tested for the pioneering 'Parish Tree Wardens' scheme in which volunteers used a tailor-made survey system of veteran trees.

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The survey discovered that whilst oaks in other parts of Southern England have genetic links with oaks on the European mainland, oaks in Suffolk and Norfolk are genetically unique

"We may have discovered a unique genetic inheritance and that inheritance brings with it important obligations," added Mr Mitchell. "We're duty bound, as a council and as citizens, to conserve as much of our veteran tree heritage as we possibly can."

"It's an enormous and ambitious undertaking, in terms of scope, time and environmental importance. We realised very early on that in order to build a snapshot of our veteran trees of all species, we needed people to assist us.

"We consider ourselves extremely fortunate, considering the geographical spread of our district and density of ancient woodland within it, to have over 90 trained wardens, more tree wardens than anywhere else in Suffolk, devoted to the task. But anyone is welcome to take part in the survey, not just wardens."

To qualify for the 'veteran' label, a tree must possess all of the following attributes; it will be a cultural icon, which links us with the past; it will be a wildlife habitat of great importance and it will be a defining feature of the landscape. Size and age are not necessarily determining factors.

The survey aims to protect and preserve these 'cultural icons' and the council is also keen to maintain this genetic inheritance by establishing seedling trees in areas currently devoid of veteran trees.

The scheme has also been given a boost thanks to the newly released training video and complementary handbook, which will be launched by Sir Michael Lord, MP on Saturday, July 20th at the Thornham Field Centre.

The video and training manual will help existing and prospective Parish Tree Wardens survey their veteran trees.

If you would like to know more about the survey or would like to volunteer as a Mid Suffolk Tree Warden, please contact David Mitchell on 01449 727251 or e-mail him at

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