NEWS RELEASE No: 973027 JUNE 2007

Can't see the trees for the wood

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One of the biggest oaks in Britain, the King of the Limbs in Savernake forest Historic trees –some thought to be around 1,000 years old – can stretch out at Savernake Forest in Wiltshire, thanks to a project that puts these veterans centre stage.

Throughout the winter local contractors have been hard at work in Savernake Forest to enhance the unique character and wildlife value of the forest. Forestry Commission, Natural England and DEFRA have jointly funded this restoration work to enhance the biodiversity value of this most important Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).

Veteran trees, some of the oldest and most valued features of the forest for visitors and wildlife alike, have been given more room to grow in order to prolong their life-span. Historic avenues have been re-opened, old ponds restored and scrub cleared in the forest-wide project.

Fraser Bradbury, Area Forester for Savernake, said:

This work has been planned down to the smallest detail, with individual trees identified as priorities” .

“All the major veteran trees have been surveyed using global positioning systems, tagged and numbered; this means that we can permanently identify and map each individual tree for their future management Over the last two years we have identified and tagged 7000 old trees.”, ..

The work is the culmination of several years of surveying in Savernake that . Individual surveys have included those of 7,000 notable and ancient trees, historic ponds, invertebrates and birds.

Ben Lennon, local Planning and Environment Manager for the Forestry Commission, said:

“Historically, there were far fewer trees here than there is now During Medieval times, the landscape would have been very open with scattered trees and occasional copses. Some of the old beech trees date from the 18th Century. A handful of the older oaks may even pre-date the Norman conquest..

“The project allows people to see these great old trees and give them space and light to carry on growing. Seeing an old veteran tree in its own space really captures the enduring mystery of the forest “However, this now presents a unique opportunity for deadwood invertebrates that thrive on fallen trees, so the Forestry Commission is not in a hurry to clear these up.

Ted Green, a founder member of the Ancient Tree Forum, is delighted that the Forestry Commission has taken steps to safeguard the trees, especially the ancient oaks at Savernake. He said:

“Some of the oaks in the Forest started life before England came into being, they may have watched a millennium pass and are still here today – some of the oldest living things on the planet. It is great that they will breathe more freely once again and carry on giving us great enjoyment for centuries to come.

As part of this project Savernake has pioneered a new technology – known as LIDAR – which uses laser energy to “see through the trees” and reveal the forests hidden secrets.

Ben Lennon explained:

“LIDAR is a bit like taking an aerial photograph using a very weak laser that reveals important archaeological features hidden by the trees .. to This helps us to better understand the development of the forest landscape. The number of features revealed is incredible and we can carry out more detailed surveys in the areas of archaeological interest.we can

The Forestry Commission is in the process of reviewing its management plan for Savernake. This will continue to take into account biodiversity, landscape character, historic landscape and ongoing forest management. The Forestry Commission will be releasing a document for local public consultation later this year. Contact the local forest office for further details. Tel: 01672 512520

Media contact: Dee Ashurst, Public Affairs Manager at the Forestry Commission’s Forest of Dean office on 01594 833057

Notes to editors
v Savernake is one of the most important areas for veteran trees in England.
v Sites of Special Scientific Interest are a series of national designations that aim to protect representative samples of the most important biodiversity in the country.
v Savernake is the largest woodland SSSI in Wiltshire amounting to 904 hectares (2235 acres) 871ha of which is managed by the Forest Commission.
v Britain holds over 80% of the veteran trees in northern Europe.
v Savernake is famous for its oak trees including the Duke’s Vaunt, the King of Limbs, Big Bellied Oak and Cathedral Oak. Some of these may be old Saxon boundary trees dating back to before the Norman Conquest.
v Savernake Forest is leased from the Savernake estate on 999 year lease

The Forestry Commission is the government department responsible for forestry in Great Britain. It supports woodland owners with grants; tree felling licences, regulation and advice; promotes the benefits of forests and forestry; and advises Government on forestry policy. It manages more than a million hectares (2.5 million acres) of national forest land for public benefits such as sustainable timber production, public recreation, nature conservation, and rural and community development. For further information, visit

Defra is the Government department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Defra's core purpose is to improve the current and future quality of life. For the first time one department has brought together the interests of farmers and the countryside; the environment and the rural economy; the food we eat, the air we breathe and the water we drink. Defra’s aim is sustainable development.

Natural England works for people, places and nature to conserve and enhance biodiversity, landscapes and wildlife in rural, urban, coastal and marine areas.
Natural England brings together English Nature, the Countryside Agency and the Rural Development Service.