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The veteran beech at Frithsden Beeches at Ashridge, owned by the National Trust. We know, for example that trees absorb climate-

warming carbon dioxide, and that deforestation often leads to devastating flooding. We also know that forests are a pharmaceutical treasure trove. Willows, for example, produce acetylsalicylic acid, the active ingredient for asprin, which prevents heart attack, stroke and even some cancers. What has yet to be properly researched, though,

is the suggestion that trees in the wild aerolise acetylsalicylic acid into the air and water, which may have a beneficial effect on the health of all living things within the forest. Even from a layman’s perspective, the possibilities – and implications – would seem far-reaching and important. It also links intriguingly with Japanese research

which reveals that hiking through forests not only reduces stress but actually increases the levels of specific ‘killer’ cells in the immune system that combat viruses and tumours. Perhaps we need to return to putting an

economic value on caring for our ancient and native trees and start investing seriously in research before it is too late. In the USA, for example, trees are used as shade crops and to prevent soil erosion; they can even be used to clean up toxic waste thanks to the thick colonies of microbes that cluster naturally around their roots.

Back in Japan, local fishermen are rejuvenating

fish and oyster stocks by planting trees along coasts and rivers; this followed the discovery that when humic acid from decomposing leaves leaches into the sea it helps fertilise plankton, an essential food for many forms of sea life.

Back to the future An American initiative, the Archangel Ancient Tree Trust, is making small but interesting inroads in its bid to clone the world’s oldest, largest and most ecologically important trees. Its co-founder, David Milarch, hopes to use them as part of a future forest mix, ‘to put back what we have lost’. Trees such as redwoods also help check climate

change by storing huge amounts of carbon, and Archangel recently shipped 100 cloned coast redwoods, cultivated from Californian stumps felled more than a century ago, to the Eden Project in Cornwall. Conservationists are working hard to raise

awareness but it’s time we all sat up and took notice. In this frantic, increasingly unnatural 21st century world, we need the natural world – and our ancient trees – more than ever. And we need to understand what we are in danger of losing before it is gone forever. 


Further information ∫ To support a national tree register, visit

∫ The Special Trees & Woods of the Chilterns book can be purchased from the AONB website

∫ Find your nearest ancient tree at

Measured with a hug! A tree’s girth continues to expand throughout its life so it can be used to estimate age. An easy way to measure a tree is to hug it, using the fingertip-to-fingertip measurement of 1.5m per hug. Most species with a full crown put on an inch (2.5cm) around their girth annually: a tree with an 8ft (2.44m) girth will therefore be about 100 years old. A similar tree growing close to others in an avenue or

woodland may be up to a century older.


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