Its going to be a Summer of Hugs

It’s going to be a Summer of Hugs

In a wave of nostalgia for the peace and love summers of the 1960s and with a watchful eye on the future for the UK’s remarkable ancient trees, this summer is going to be a ‘Summer of Hugs’, according to the Woodland Trust, the UK’s leading woodland conservation charity.

The Summer of Hugs officially kicks off at the Guardian Hay Literary Festival this week.

Clive Anderson, Monty Don, Felix Dennis and Will Cohu are among those celebrating ancient trees and woodland at the ten-day-long literary festival in the Brecon Beacons. The Summer of Hugs is part of the Woodland Trust’s Ancient Tree Hunt and there’ll be a range of events to celebrate it across the country.

The Ancient Tree Hunt’s five year plan is to find and record 100,000 ancient, veteran and notable trees in the UK and after its first year has gathered 17,000 records. This summer, the Trust hopes to get everyone hugging to add even more ancient trees to its records on http://www.AncientTreeHunt.org.uk.

The Woodland Trust’s Ancient Tree Hunt database isn’t just a long, dull list of measurements and notes – it’s a free and searchable atlas. Every ancient tree found can be plotted on ‘zoom-able’ Ordnance Survey (OS) maps. Some trees have photographs, a blog, amazing stories of kings, queens, poets, politicians and painters, and even a list of visitors.

Hugging is an easy way to measure the girth of old trees, and a fat girth is one of several indicators of age. Ancient tree hunting doesn’t need special equipment and it’s something that everyone, of every age and level of fitness, can do this summer either when they’re out and about, or as a reason to go out for the day.

There are estimated to be more ancient trees in the UK than anywhere else in Northern Europe, yet there’s no official record of where they are, how many there are and, unlike most historic buildings, few have any protection.

Ancient trees and their younger cousins, the veterans and notable trees of the UK’s rural and urban landscape, are important because of the wildlife they sustain and their role in helping to shape our history over the centuries. Holes, dead and rotting wood, wrinkles and crannies are all important habitats for hundreds of plants, animals, insects and fungi, including many rare and threatened species. Clusters of ancient trees are even more important, because they offer more places for wildlife.

So how do you hug an ancient tree? A ‘British Standard Hug’ from an adult, with arms outstretched and fingertip-to-fingertip, is about 1.5 metres, and a child’s hug is roughly half that.

A veteran oak might be a candidate for the Ancient Tree Hunt database once it gets to a minimum of three adult hugs, a beech might qualify at just two hugs, and a fat, old sweet chestnut needs to be four hugs as they grow more quickly.

There are thought to be ancient oaks still thriving that were alive even before the arrival of William the Conqueror in 1066. Books and documents recording this momentous historic event haven’t survived as well as the oaks originating from the same date. Incredibly, these trees are still waiting to be found, hugged and mapped, and anyone could find one.

Thanks to 21st century technology, ancient tree clusters are indicated on the zoom-able maps on the Ancient Tree Hunt website. Armed with this knowledge, ancient tree hunters can visit specific sites in the expectation of having a grand old tree to hug and measure at the end of their trip. The Ancient Tree Hunt website even contains a layer of Sustrans information to help plan routes for cyclists, walkers and disabled people.

To register a tree on the Ancient Tree Hunt website, simply make a note of where it was found, take a photo if possible, and measure its girth. You can use a tape measure, or use the hug method – but first read the Ancient Tree Hunt’s guide to measuring old trees on the website http://www.AncientTreeHunt.org.uk. All submissions are checked by the Ancient Tree Hunt’s volunteer verifiers.

Ancient trees deserve treasuring, and the results of the Ancient Tree Hunt will help ensure they are properly cared for and their importance recognised for centuries to come. With its tree planting events and free ‘Hedge and Copse’ packs for schools and community groups, the Woodland Trust also plants thousands of new trees every year, which it hopes will become the successors to today’s ancients – the ancients of the future.

This summer marks a renewed effort in the hunt for old trees. Designating 2008 as ‘The Summer of Hugs’ introduces the Ancient Tree Hunt as a project for everyone, of any age, in towns, cities and countryside. And who doesn’t need a hug every now and then?

For more hugging information, or to join in the Ancient Tree Hunt by recording a tree, log onto http://www.AncientTreeHunt.org.uk, or call 0845 293 5581. To find out about Summer of Hugs Events, see http://www.AncientTreeHunt.org.uk/news/events

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