How to identify and protect heritage trees

Rohan Mathew

Updated on:

Whilst they are hard to formally describe, heritage trees are given their status due to a variety of definitions. Usually, they have a significance in the community they grow in or help define a woodland area, country or specific scenery.

Trees have always held an iconic reference in our history; they provided shadows for soldiers marching to war throughout the roman era. They paved a way for modern science, thanks to apple trees. In the very basic principles they provided us with shelter, food and safety for years and years. So why are some trees considered to be more important than others? 

What is a heritage tree?

Heritage trees are considered to be very important, irreplaceable trees with certain unique values associated to them. There are no specific types of trees or categorisation used to define them, rather their age, rarity or size. 

There are many other factors that can help depict a heritage tree, these are more concerned with the feelings they evoke. If a tree has a certain aesthetic, historical or ecological value, they too are considered to be heritage trees. One of the best examples of a heritage tree would be the Red Oaks in Canada, they are native to their land and used as a landmark figure associated with the country as a whole.

The law can either privately or publically protect trees. This means that if a tree grows within six inches of any privately owned lot, or the property line they are privately protected by said owner. If a tree is located on any public property, owned by the city, government or the authorities it is a publically protected tree. 

In some cases there may be exceptional specimen trees, the council in any city, state or district ultimately decides upon these. If they certain intrinsic values that have been attributed to these trees by the public, the city council must discuss and decide if the tree warrants a heritage status. 

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The main criteria for a heritage tree

Below are the main set of criteria that best attribute to heritage trees. Please be aware that some factors may be based relevant to a certain community for personal reasons outside of the factors outlined. 

  • Size

  • Form

  • Shape

  • Age

  • Rarity

  • Aesthetic value

  • Ecological value

  • Historical value

  • Association with local traditions and myths.

Can I project a heritage tree?

Many activists have joined together to campaign for special laws to be passed offering the protection of these heritage trees. The Heritage Tree Conservation Act offers to impose many restrictions and guidelines upon the removal of these said trees. 

Committees have formed globally, they offer constant surveillance, care and protection in areas they are most required. Usually, these committees do have council backing, but are not funded at all. This makes finding members and keeping them a hard task. 

The best way that anyone can help to preserve these heritage trees is by spreading the important message and meaning behind their conservation. If one has any free time, they could get involved with actually patrolling these public areas where the heritage trees grow too. Conservationists are always hoping to gain funding to better equip their volunteers, so any donations to a local conservation party are always gratefully accepted. 

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What is a Tree Preservation Order? 

A council in any town, city or state can generate a Tree Preservation Order (TPO). These TPO’s make is an illegal offence to damage, cut down or uproot any tree that are categorised under this status. 

These orders help to preserve dwindling wildlife numbers in certain areas, by helping to create strong habitats for them. A TPO can be put in place to restore visual amenity to a landscape, giving it back their beautiful views and textures. Some TPO’s are put in place to provide noise reduction to busy areas, or to help reduce pollution in cities. 

TPO’s have been designed to truly protect trees. They are made to help make a significant impact to the surrounding areas facing a lack of trees or nature’s impacts. Most importantly, they are designed to help improve the environment shared with humans and to increase the enjoyment and happiness of the general public.

If you are interested in applying for a TPO or checking the status of a tree you can contact your local council. You should speak to the conservation representative or arboriculture officer and make an appointment with them to further discuss.

Protective Tree Status

The most important concept to take from this is that any tree can gain heritage status. If you can express your argument as to why a tree should be preserved, the chances are that it can be. Before enquiring to gain a TPO status for any tree, please check that is it on public grounds. If it is on private grounds there are other formal streams that may have to be adopted before reaching out to the official owners. Nevertheless, this does not mean that the tree cannot be protected or gain a heritage status.