Midlothian’s Dalkeith Country Park: volunteers record data for The Woodland Trust Scotland. Image: Michelle Kelly / Woodland Trust Scotland.
Midlothian’s Dalkeith Country Park: volunteers record data for The Woodland Trust Scotland. Image: Michelle Kelly / Woodland Trust Scotland.

Scottish Park revealed as ‘heritage tree hotspot’

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Experts record 500 ‘living legends’ in woodland area 

A Scottish woodland is being described as a ‘heritage tree hotspot’ following the recent recording of 500 ancient, veteran and notable oaks.

Experts say the trees at Midlothian’s Dalkeith Country Park could descend from one single giant which was thought to have been planted centuries ago to funnel deer towards aristocratic hunters.

Details of the trees are to be included on the Woodland Trust’s Ancient Tree Inventory which maps the oldest and most important trees in the UK.

Ten volunteers completed the marathon mission to measure, photograph and log the exact GPS locations for the trees. It took them 14 days to complete the task.

The work was overseen by Scotland’s lead ancient tree verifiers Keith Knight and Clair McFarlan.

‘It is likely the trees were planted hundreds of years ago as a way of managing deer for hunting,’ explains Keith.

‘The Lords and Ladies would all come out from Holyrood. Deer would be driven into the strip of land where the North and South Esk rivers converge. Trees planted along the edge would block their escape.’

More than 500 trees were recorded with 100 deemed as ‘ancient.’ It is unusual in Scotland to have so many remarkable oaks in one place. It is more usual to find a single spectacular tree on its own in the landscape.

‘Protect our Living Legends:’ campaign tops 50,000 signatures

‘Old oaks are terrific for supporting lots of wildlife,’ says George Anderson of Woodland Trust Scotland.

‘Many birds and mammals will make use of the nooks and crannies in a craggy old tree, and deadwood is essential to the life cycle of many insects and fungi.’

‘Ancient trees are as much a part of our heritage as stately homes, cathedrals and works of art, but they don’t get the same protection.’

‘Our campaign to Protect our Living Legends has already collected over 50,000 signatures petitioning all UK Governments to do better.’

The Dalkeith group is one of three hotspots hosting heritage oaks by the hundred. The others being the Cadzow oaks in South Lanarkshire and the Lochwood oaks at Annandale in Dumfries and Galloway. 

Scotland’s Woodland Trust says the oldest and biggest oak on the site is known as The Michael. The add the name probably derives from the Scots word meikle which simply means ‘big.’

Other experts link the oak to the 16th Century sailing ship The Michael which was the largest vessel afloat at the time. The Michael oak would have already been an imposing tree at the time The Michael ship put to sea from Newhaven in the 1500s. 

The Michael oak has multiple stems and may be the result of more than one sapling being planted together. The trunk could be up to 1000 years old. It is thought a lot of the other oaks on the site are its offspring or descendants.

Midlothian’s Dalkeith Country Park contains trees which are up to 1000 years old. Image: Scotland Woodland Trust / Michelle Kelly.

New trail helps visitors to see Dalkeith oaks

The Dalkeith oaks were once difficult for casual visitors. A trail was created in 2016 which allows visitors to see many of the trees.

‘I have to give credit to all the Woodland Trust Volunteers who kept coming back to help tackle the mammoth task of documenting all these trees over the months,’ says Ross Mason, Park Manager.

‘On the plus side it is always nice to spend the day in the woods with people who all have a genuine passion for these trees and nature in general.’

An ancient tree is classed as being in the third and final stage of its life. Experts say how old an ancient tree is depends on the species.

Some species can live longer than others with yews, oaks and sweet chestnuts topping the age charts at more than 1000 years. Other species, including birch and willow, live shorter lives.

A veteran tree is usually in the second or mature stage of life. It will have some of the features found on an ancient tree but won’t have the great age.

Although not as old as ancient trees, they’re still seen as being incredibly important for the whole of the ecosystem. 

Notable trees are usually mature trees which may stand out in the local environment because they are large in comparison with other trees around them.

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