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Very old trees above Rosedale Abbey

Sun 10th Jul, 2022

When I returned home on the 1st June, I just had to write about my five wow trees! I had been carrying out a bird survey for the North York Moors National Park on the rugged slopes above Rosedale Abbey. My senses were supposed to be focused on birds but I soon became distracted by some very old trees. At the end of the day, I realised early June must be of the best times of year for discovering and enjoying these amazing treasures.

The first tree I found was a mighty Oak. At its base it had grown around a huge rock and split into two trunks. Lichen had spread from rock to tree or tree to rock. The trunk had wrapped its arm of bark around each side of the rock, locked into the wood, the rock was now part of the tree. The tree, its shape and feature were unique in every way. This was my first tree wow of the day. The landscape around the oak was equally impressive. Ice age boulders lay scattered amongst the wild scene like outcasts, kicked away by the oak after choosing its special one!

Further along the slope in a more heavily grazed field I found a Crab Apple with a mysterious entrance in the base of its trunk. Hollow trunks are a feature of ancient trees. The centre of the tree dies away but the outer bark still thrives and these hollows are great places for invertebrates and other wildlife.

Not far away was a very old Rowan tree bending away from the hillside. The most impressive feature about this mighty Mountain Ash was its fabulous domed, white and cream flowers. By the side of the tree, I found an English Bluebell still in full flower, a solitary sign from a long-lost woodland washed with blue.


Not far away was another old tree this time a Holly. Seriously spooky in structure with lots of dead wood in its canopy, it grew almost horizontally out of the rocks and earth. On closer inspection I was impressed to find flowers amongst the many spikes, and this was a very spikey Holly! A great defence from browsing mammals nearby.

My final tree wow of the day was an English Alder. With over a meter at its girth this wise old elder must be in the ancient league. Dark and hollow on its southern flank welcoming the warmth of the sun but gnarled and protected at the base of its northern trunk.

Five magnificent trees on the side of an ice age valley. I was thrilled to discover these treasures and I hope they can they continue to thrive amongst the pressure of grazing animals. These and many other old and ancient trees deserve care. They are just as important in our country’s natural heritage as historic buildings. The Woodland Trust have published excellent advice on how to identify and care for ancient and very old trees, much of it simple and effective. To download the information sheets, CLICK HERE.

Richard Baines

Yorkshire Coast Nature