Exploring the Sussex countryside and ancient trees this autumn during National Tree Week; reveals some of the most amazing colours, in the changing leaves on the trees.
Trees do so much for us every day. But trees need our help now! We need to champion them, by planting many more trees and caring for the ones we already have. To ensure a green and tree-filled future for us all.
Britain’s Ancient Trees
Many of Britain’s ancient trees are becoming more and more under threat from vandalism, diseases and developers. We need to do more in looking after and taking care of our long-standing oxygen givers; they also provide a great habitat for many species of wildlife; lichen, bugs, birds and more.
These wooden giants have stood for hundreds if not thousands of years, seen off multiple invasions, countless monarchs, political disruption and turmoil; weathered the worst storms and with our help, can live through climate change and stand for thousands more years to come.
Oldest Trees In Sussex
Sussex is host to some of the world’s oldest arboretum and ancient trees. Some of the most outstanding ancient native trees in Britain stand strong in the county. Below are listed the four most significant ancient trees of native species growing in Sussex.
1. World’s Oldest Elm Tree
English Elm (Ulmus minor var. vulgaris / Syn U. procera)
- Age: 400 years old approx.
- Location: Preston Park, Brighton
- Managed By: Brighton & Hove Council
The Preston Twins
Until the summer of 2019 this ancient English Elm tree stood as a pair of twins. The two Preston Twins (Elm Trees) were originally planted circa 1613. Sadly, as with many others of the National Elm Collection in Brighton; one of the Preston Twins had to be removed due to a Dutch Elm Disease (DED) infection. Leaving the remaining tree to be the Oldest Elm Tree in the World.
Dutch Elm Disease
This disease is caused by the Ophiostoma novo-ulmi fungus, which is spread from tree to tree by the Elm Bark Beetle (Scolytus multistriatus & S. scolytus). However the Preston Twin Elm tree itself also hosts a rare and protected species of butterfly, a colony of White-Letter Hairstreak (Satyrium w-album).
White-Letter Hairstreak Butterflies
This rare butterfly species found in Sussex, has been on the decline in areas that have suffered with Elm Disease. The White-Letter Hairstreak are an endangered species of butterfly; that lives mainly in the treetops and their larvae rely on the elm trees for food.
2. Sussex Oldest Oak Tree
(Queen Elizabeth I Oak)
Sessile Oak (Quercus petraea)
- Age: 850-1000 years old approx.
- Location: Cowdray Park, Midhurst
- Managed By: Cowdray Estate
Queen Elizabeth I Oak Tree
Oak trees are likely the most well-known tree in the UK and for good reason. They are some of the oldest and most used living trees in Europe; with the Queen Elizabeth 1st Oak Tree near the village of Lodsworth (nr. Midhurst) being possibly 1000 years old.
Sussex’s Real Royal Oak
On August 11 1573, Queen Elizabeth I stopped in the village on her way to Rye; sat beneath the 1,000 year old tree and ate a meal, served to her from a house nearby. She changed her shoes that were made of green damask silk and left them as a memento for her hosts.
Where Is Sussex’s Oldest Oak Tree?
Free parking is available at the nearby Benbow Pond and the ancient Queen Elizabeth I Oak Tree itself stands just a short walk through the John Cowdray Arboretum. Rounding a second smaller pond, look up the hill and you will see the fenced off behemoth of an Oak tree and the oldest in Sussex.
3. Britain’s Tallest Native Tree
European Beech (Fagus sylvatica) 144ft / 44m tall
- Age: 200 years old approx.
- Location: Newtimber Wood, Poynings
- Managed By: National Trust
Measuring Britain’s Tallest Native Tree
Here is a video from the National Trust of their team climbing and measuring Britain’s Tallest Native Tree back in 2015; it comes out at well over 44 metres.
Where Is Britain’s Tallest Native Tree?
Found on the estate grounds of Newtimber Place, in an ancient woodland valley, among the South Downs near Devil’s Dyke in West Sussex; stands the Tallest Native Tree in Britain at 144ft / 44m tall and known as the Newtimber Beech.
It’s amazing how you can go on discovering marvellous trees, almost on your doorstep. It’s also strange and fascinating that this one beech, which must have very good genes; has managed to grow so much taller than all of its rivals in the same conditions. – Dr Owen Johnson, Registrar for The Tree Register
4. Sussex Oldest Yew Tree
(Kingley Vale Great Yew)
English Yew (Taxus baccata)
- Age: Over 1000 years old
- Location: Kingley Vale, Chichester
- Managed By: Natural England
South Downs Yew Trees
The yews of Kingley Vale have graced the South Downs for hundreds if not thousands of years; and are some of the oldest living things in the UK. Sussex folklore has it that the local Druids worshipped here before the Romans invaded; and that the archers of Agincourt used the supple, yet strong Yew wood to make their bows.
Kingley Vale Yew Tree Grove
The yew groves form the heart of this National Nature Reserve (NNR) and there are several large, very special and very old trees. As local legend has it, the ancient Yew tree grove at Kingley Vale was planted as a memorial; for a battle fought between the Vikings and the Anglo Saxons at some point in the period 850-900 AD. But some sources claim the trees are more than 2000 years old.
How Old Is The Great Yew At Kingley Vale?
Yews are difficult trees to date but some in the reserve are certainly 500 years old; and it is possible that they may be very much older than this, perhaps many times as old. Tree experts have tried to estimate the age of the Kingley Vale Great Yew Tree, some say 1000 years, other say many more thousand!
Kingley Vale Great Yew
To find the Great Yew in the grove at Kingley Vale Nature Reserve, park at the West Stoke car park and head north on the path marked ‘nature trail’. The best of the oldest yews are on the right-hand side of the path (if you keep to the left).
The Kingley Vale Great Yew tree has sired some 3 sets of grandchildren; this can be seen through the repeated runners sprouting into new trees from the main tree. For this reason it is also known as The Grandfather Tree.
BBC South Downs Documentary
Here is a clip from the BBC documentary South Downs: England’s Mountains Green. During the filming Peter Owen-Jones visits Kingley Vale Yew Tree Grove and explores the stunning ancient trees.
Other Ancient Trees
Take a look at the following websites to find out more info. About the oldest and most ancient trees in Britain; and what you can do to help them.
National Tree Week
(23rd November – 1st December)
National Tree Week is the UK’s largest tree celebration, inspiring people across the UK to plant thousands of trees every year since 1975. Set up by The Tree Council and marking the start of the tree planting season; the campaign has its roots in the response to Dutch Elm Disease crisis of the 1960’s, which wiped out more than 20 million of our most significant landscape trees.
People came together to “Plant A Tree in 73” and every year since, companies, professionals, schools and The Tree Council’s amazing network of volunteer Tree Wardens; have planted trees around the country to lay down roots for a tree-filled future.
Be a #TreeChampion this #NationalTreeWeek
More About Sussex
There are many other posts about Sussex county, its wildlife, crafts and the projects that White Rabbit is involved with in our blog. Go on… Feed Your Head! Once you have finished reading, get outside and hug one of Sussex’s Oldest and Most Ancient Trees.
Founder and strategic mind behind White Rabbit. Focused on clients with a creative and ethical business model. Digital philanthropist giving time to support community groups, project and organisations; that revolve around wildlife conservation and heritage crafts.