In the UK we have substantial legal protections for historic sites. If you buy a listed building, you have responsibilities to maintain it appropriately. If you buy a piece of land with an ancient tree on it, there will be no such protections in place for that tree.
When it comes to protecting features in the landscape, we tend to protect sites deemed to be of historical significance – which means sites of human activity. The landscapes we protect tend to be both dramatic and apparently pristine – I have a lot of issues around this because our protected landscapes are often dramatic land shapes that have been stripped of life. These are places devoid of trees, undergrowth and wild beings, maintained in a state of visual drama for the human gaze. Anything with an urban aspect gets little protection.
It would help considerably if we had more protection in place for ancient trees. It would be good if we could undertake to value the history in our landscapes without it having to be so human-centric.
The Woodland Trust has a Living Legends campaign under way. Most of our oldest trees have few legal protections so there is petitioning under way to try and persuade the Government to grant our oldest and most important trees more robust protections, in line with heritage sites, buildings and protected species. The campaign seeks to emphasise tree protection through policy and legal measures, as well as enabling those who manage our most important trees to care for them more effectively. More information, and the petition, can be found here.