Apr 27 2020

Recording the Legendary Trees of Sherwood Forest

Article by Helen Leaf, Ancient Tree Volunteer Verifier


I’m a Verifier for the Ancient Tree Inventory, and what I’ve been doing for the past few years is going to Sherwood Forest to record the veteran and ancient trees there. At the start, the trees were on the ATI, but I’d noticed that their records were very basic – just a tree species and girth measurement. Some trees were on twice, and some weren’t on at all. I thought that for such an iconic and well known forest, it seemed wrong that nobody could get to know it! My aim is to make sure that the records for each tree are really good, with accurate data, good photos and good observations, all consistent across the forest. 


I think that in five, ten or twenty years’ time and beyond, it will be interesting to see how the trees have changed. I wish someone had done this ten or twenty years ago, so that we could see the difference now! 

It’s quite a big job, so I worked out a way to be organised and methodical. Going there so often, I’ve become familiar with the character of many areas and many trees. I think of a few as ‘long root trees’, there’s a ‘hollow bed tree’, a ‘hornet tree’, a ‘dragon tree’, a ‘mossy log tree’, several called ‘the big burry one’ and so on.


When I’m out in the forest I try and find the right balance between recording a good day’s worth of trees, and giving each tree the right attention and time so that its record is good. I’ll sometimes be stopped for a chat by people – it’s time that I’m not recording, but they seem genuinely interested so I don’t mind. 


I’ve almost completed the original area I set out to do, but have found new large areas of forest that haven’t been recorded for the ATI before now, and have started adding these to the map. This will be the focus of my work over the next couple of years. It’s very exciting, and will perhaps double the number of trees that we know of. Some are dead trees, some are alive, but all are really quite amazing. There’s a great deal to learn from all of these trees, and with the information on the ATI, this becomes possible. I’m glad it’s important. It seems such a small area on the map of Britain, but when you’re there it seems huge, as there’s so much going on! 


[ATI Admin: In Sherwood Forest Country Park and the surrounding SSSI area, there are over 1,000 tree records that have been recorded to the ancient tree inventory so far, but of course this is subject to revision based on Helen’s work in updating the records, which includes the removal of duplicate records. The current data suggests that approximately a third to a half of these are dead trees – Sherwood Forest has a significant amount of standing dead wood, which helps to give the forest it’s unique character. And as you might expect, over 99% of the tree records are for oak species, although there are some very interesting crab apple, hawthorn and lime records that we must not overlook.]


The photos below show some of the new trees I’ve found in the forest: 
















I’ve seen other things which have been interesting such as a ganorderma bracket fungus on a veteran oak (bringing the total to two known trees with ganoderma in the whole forest), odd things like slime mould, longhorn beetles, red velvet mites, and more. Often I’ve had to look these up once I’m back home – it’s quite interesting. 



Although trees look great in the summer and the days are longer, it’s often tricky to get to the trees when the brambles and bracken are high.

I’ve found that the best time to record them is during the cooler months. It’s also a time when it’s easier to see the structure of the tree and many of its features. This spring I had been planning to do lots of recording, then work through my notes over the summer.

Now that we’re in lockdown and my time in the forest is on pause, I’m enjoying the chance to take a step back a little after so much focused tree recording. As I’ve nearly finished the original set of trees, it’s almost an ideal time to take a break.

I’m still adding trees to the ATI map from my winter recording, and I’m checking through all of my notes to make sure that everything so far is complete, clear, tidy and organised. It’s also a time that I can use productively to reflect on what I’ve done so far, and prepare and plan ahead to my next phase of recording in the new areas of forest. 


When I first suggested doing this I knew it would be a big task, but hadn’t realised how interesting, absorbing and useful it would be! 

Helen Leaf


To see more trees recorded at Sherwood Forest, click this link to our ancient tree inventory.


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