The Many Benefits of Protecting Very Old Trees (and How to Do It if You Have One Nearby) 

Old trees are magnificent and can make our hearts skip a beat. But they don’t just look majestic, they’re also important in preserving biodiversity and ecosystem. Because, trees like that provide stability, strength, and protection to risky environments. 

In a study, a team of ecologists highlight the importance of preserving these trees and offer a project initiative so that the trees would prosper. 

The authors wrote, “Ancient trees are unique habitats for the conservation of threatened species because they can resist and buffer climate warming.” 

Some of these trees like bristlecone pines in the White Mountains, USA, can live up to 5,000 years and act as massive carbon storage. 

Ancient trees are hotspots for mycorrhizal connectivity. It is a symbiotic relationship with underground fungi that supplies plants with many of the nutrients they need to survive. In turn, the fungi help reduce drought in dry environments. 

Despite the benefits to nature and their large role in conservation, these trees are decreasing at an alarming rate. 

 

Tree conservation proposal from the ecologists 

The researchers offer an approach to protect these trees that they call a two-pronged approach. First, using propagation and preservation of the germplasm and meristematic tissue from these ancient trees. Second, a planned integration of complete protection and forest rewilding. 

“Mapping and monitoring old-growth forests and ancient trees can directly assess the effectiveness and sustainability of protected areas and their ecological integrity. 

“To carry out this ambitious project, a global monitoring platform, based on advanced technologies, is required along with public contributions through community science projects,” wrote the authors. 

Thus far, protecting old trees has been limited by national policy levels. According to the authors, “The current review of the Convention of Biological Diversity and Sustainable Development Goal 15 ‘Life on Land’ of Agenda 2030 should include old-growth and ancient tree mapping and monitoring as key indicators of the effectiveness of protected areas in maintaining and restoring forest integrity for a sustainable future. 

“We call for international efforts to preserve these hubs of diversity and resilience. A global coalition utilizing advanced technologies and community scientists to discover, protect, and propagate ancient trees is needed before they disappear.” 

 

 

Old trees vs constructions 

Based on the study above, we understand that ancient tree forests are important. However, it doesn’t mean that the ones around us don’t have any substantial use.  

Unfortunately, conflict between nature and humankind happens all the time, from big scale like deforestation to small scale like simple construction. 

In UK only, ancient trees don’t have an automatic right of protection. So, whenever a company or a contractor wants to build or make something near them, they’ll remain unprotected from destruction. 

These trees are subject to permanent damage and lost because of a culture of safety and tidiness. Then, they’re expendable when somebody want to use a land and change it; like property development or agriculture.  

And, the trees have to compete with other trees around it against overcrowding, which will damage them slowly. 

Protecting the trees around construction sites 

Trees around a construction site can sustain damage from many causes like soil compaction, severing of roots, trunk and limb injury, and limb breakage from construction equipment and activities. 

If you happen to know old trees nearby, here are some things that you can do to protect them. 

Ask to put not too much equipment within the trees’ dripline 

Contractors sometimes don’t care about placements when there are old trees around. Therefore, we can ask them to minimize heavy equipment use and materials or supplies storage around the dripline or areas directly below the canopy. 

But if it’s just not possible to minimize aforementioned activities and they must do it within the dripline, then you may suggest applying heavy equipment mats. We can also give mulch or any other materials around the dripline, about 6 inches, to help absorb and distribute equipment weight to prevent soil compaction. 

Depending on where we live and our communities, we can create some kind of a protected zone around each old tree to minimize access to the area. These zones can help prevent the trees or areas from being excavated, used to stockpile material, dumping area, or for storage. 

Give the roots and trunks protection 

Trunks and roots are prone to damage when there’s construction around. When we see a tree trunk being close to a construction work area, wrap the entire trunk with lumber or other protective materials. 

This will protect the trunk from potential physical damage from vehicles, equipment, tools, and debris in the project site. 

Before construction begins, we can also pull and tie back tree limbs that could obstruct construction activities. It’s better to not prune or remove the limbs entirely, because we can pull or tie them away. 

Should there be any pruning, we should do it properly and only to branches or roots that are broken and damaged. Any limbs or roots damaged should be removed with a clean saw, applying good pruning techniques. 

Monitor regularly for signs of damage 

The thing about trees is that when there’s unseen damage caused by construction, we won’t see it within days. That kind of damage will be visible over months or years. In fact, it can take 3, 5, or more years before a tree shows symptoms of declining health. 

So, another thing we can do to help the old trees around us is to observe them regularly each year. We can also ask help from a professional arborist if there’s any indication of deterioration. 

Signs of declining tree health include: yellowing of leaves on multiple limbs, leaning, dieback, dropping of limbs, fungi or mushroom growth on limbs, trunk, and roots. 

 

 

Protecting old trees in a regular term 

“But what if there’s no construction going on at all?” 

We can still help the trees thrive on a regular basis. Here are some ways. 

Spread mulch. Yes, it still helps even though there’s no construction around. Mulch will insulate the soil around the trees’ roots and improve the soil as it decays.  

For regular use, spread the mulch made of wood chips or shredded wood about 3 to 4 inches deep around the tree. The wider the area, the better. And, distribute it evenly without piling the mulch against the bark to prevent rotting and disease. 

Avoid the roots. Soil compaction can still happen without construction, so it’s best to prevent it as well. Try our best to discourage heavy foot traffic around the dripline. In addition, also don’t encourage parking under the tree or pile heavy stuff on the roots. 

Don’t hang things from trees. While it looks/feels quaint and nostalgic when you see a tire swing tied on a seemingly-strong branch, it’ll wear away the protective bark of the old trees. If the bark damage doesn’t kill the branch, the weight may break it.  

Therefore, instead of hanging by tying a rope, some said it’ll damage much less bark if we drill a hole and screw in a large eye bolt. 

When it’s dry, water them. Old trees can survive with rainfall. But when it’s dry for a while—say several weeks—the trees need water to avoid stress. We can help by slowly watering them so that the roots have time to absorb it. Bring a few buckets of water and pour them slowly on the root zones. 

 

Sources

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2022/10/221019111332.htm  

https://www.loveyourlandscape.org/expert-advice/tree-care/preservation/how-to-keep-your-beautiful-old-trees/  

https://www.nps.gov/articles/000/preservation-matters-landscape-maintenance-protecting-historic-trees-during-construction.htm  

https://ati.woodlandtrust.org.uk/what-we-record-and-why/why-we-record/ancient-tree-protection/  

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