Alder silhouettes. Nick Wilson-Smith.

National Treesures

Nick Wilson-Smith

If you have spent anywhere near as much time under tree cover as I have, you will appreciate that it isn’t hard to understand why people have so much adoration for them. It is far from a mythical perception that a tree will provide us with a sense of calmness and reassurance, but also a distinctly vivid reminder of just how small we are in comparison. It is somehow easy to forget that they are living, breathing organisms, but to be in the close company of an ancient tree is to almost feel the very life pulsating through these remarkable behemoths.

Leaf miner. Nick Wilson-Smith.

The act of ‘tree-hugging’ has many negative connotations attached to it these days, but trust me, try wrapping your arms around an old ash or chestnut, far too wide to fully clasp, and I guarantee you will be provided with a sensation that just doesn’t exist anywhere else.
Let us consider for a moment that an ancient tree is literally a living specimen of hundreds, or potentially thousands of years. It is said that an oak can spend its 900 years, growing, living and dying – 300 years a piece. Picture through the ages, the sheer amount of folk that have walked under one of these trees, over its roots and harnessed its shelter and protection. Sadly, for reasons well documented, fewer and fewer of the like remain these days. It is mind-blowing to think that a mature oak can host up to 300 different species of invertebrates.
They are unconditionally, irreplaceable to our ecosystems – our true national treasures, and they deserve our undivided attention.

500-years worth of Sweet Chestnut (Castanea sativa). Nick Wilson-Smith.

For many people, a tree’s leaves are the most obvious way to correctly identify a species. This winter however, we must look elsewhere. Investigate just a little closer, and the twigs and overwintering buds of a tree will provide you with all the knowledge that you seek. Whether it be the oak’s cluster of golden dragon eggs, the violet tinge of the alder, the hazel’s vibrant sea anemone flower or the conveniently sooty black appearance of the ash, you will find that the vast majority of tree buds will give you some very recognisable features. A whole new way of admiring the annual life cycle of a tree and thus appreciating their full, true complexity.

Female Hazel flower (Corylus avellana). Nick Wilson-Smith.

The more time I spend dwelling under the canopy, my adoration of trees constantly grows. Gazing up at their branches in the moonlight gives a sense of almost supernatural presence. Taking the time to cast your eyes over the labyrinth-like patterns of their leaves, bark and crown structures, can deliver us with an instant zen-like state of mind. I mean, how can we not be in complete awe of a single structure that for countless years has provided us with homes, warmth, shelter, food, medicine and spiritual wellbeing?

Mauve Alder bud (Alnus glutinosa). Nick Wilson-Smith.

A plant so intelligent that it can communicate with its kin through an underground root system and provide them with nutrients when in need? An entity that quite often, will possess a symbiotic relationship with subterranean networks of fungi, ensuring that both can survive and thrive? A being that can actually identify the saliva of certain insects attacking their leaves, to then call on parasitic wasps to come to their rescue and ingest them?

I could go on, but you get my point. Trees are one of a kind. One thing that the recent pandemic has taught us all is that no matter how much we tend to forget, or act like we are not – we ARE nature.
We are all connected, every living organism on this planet, in one vast multiplex of ecological environment. Perhaps the reason why as a species, we are so attached to trees is that we are not so dissimilar ourselves. After all, we each have roots, we all require the same basic elements to survive, we all rely on others to reach our potential, and we all reach our potential by helping others. Let the trees be our guiding light through tough times and the shining example of –  “from small beginnings come great things.”
Don’t forget to look up.*

Contact us for support at and visit for more information and to arrange a trip to the Cornwall Beaver Project.

(*This blog has been written by independent writers outside of our organisation. Beaver Trust welcomes a breadth of opinions, and those expressed within this blog do not necessarily reflect those of the Beaver Trust.)

Nick Wilson-Smith

A keen amateur naturalist from a young age, I now work as a ranger in North East England, for a large conservation charity.

For as long as I can remember, I have always been fascinated by wildlife and nature. Thanks to some magical wildlife encounters, last year I became inspired to create my own website based around nature writing and photography, a place to truly celebrate the wonders of the natural world.

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© Nick Wilson-Smith 2021.