The VETree project


Background to the Project

Veteran trees, at the end of their natural life cycle and full of holes and dead wood, have a very high ecological and historical value and demand specific management. The ecological value of veteran trees is reflected in the inherent role they play in several Natura 2000 habitats and ‘housing’ Natura 2000 protected species. Since veteran trees are by definition only replaceable over centuries, it is crucial to properly manage existing veteran trees and prolong their lives, at least until a new generation of trees can fill the existing generation gap.

Ongoing economic, agricultural and forestry development during the last centuries have led to a drastic change in land use. In rural areas, millions of veteran pollard trees have been abandoned after centuries of active management for wood and fodder. Trees are no longer pollarded, get overgrown by secondary woodland or are removed in favour of agricultural efficiency. This process is still ongoing (often with EU agricultural funding) in certain countries or regions in Europe (for this consortium for example in regions of Spain and Romania). In more urban areas, veteran trees are often damaged or removed under the pretext of safety. These processes have led to a dramatic loss of veteran tree ecosystems throughout Europe and the accompanying loss in management skills and knowledge.

Veteran tree managers face new challenges: abandoned pollards are features without historic precedent (they were always managed in a more or less regular cycle) and the strict focus on safety issues creates a need to prune veteran trees instead of just letting them lose branches naturally. During the last years Ancient Tree Forum has done a lot of work gathering knowledge and experimenting with veteran tree management: new management techniques were developed and tested. This project aims to 'short circuit' the learning process in other countries, without repeating mistakes and losing rare veteran trees. Tree managers, landowners, ecologists, … all have expressed their need for training in veteran tree management during ATF’s visits in the UK and in other European countries. All other partners also detected similar needs during arboricultural training or consultancy. These scattered needs led to small initiatives throughout Europe, but there is a clear need to bring together 'state of the art' innovative management techniques, to develop free and 'ready to use' training materials and to organise training throughout Europe.

General objective of the project

The general objective of this project is to spread the knowledge about veteran tree management as widely as possible. Innovative management techniques need to find their way to all the stakeholders in veteran tree management who expressed a need for knowledge and skills: land owners, farmers, foresters, ecologists, advisors, arborists and tree managers (private and public). An indirect and secondary goal is to raise awareness about conflicting policy (e.g. agricultural policy vs. veteran tree conservation), by making policy makers (both local and EU) aware of the value of veteran trees and the threats they are facing.

Our direct target group for reaching these goals are trainers (arboricultural, ecological, agricultural, ...). By training 15-20 trainers in veteran tree management in all 5 partner countries and by providing them with 'ready-to-use' course material (presentations, videos, case studies, handbooks, …), they will be able to independently organise 1 day training courses in veteran tree management at a basic level. This 1 day training course can then either be incorporated in existing vocational education and training (e.g. in arboricultural VET) or can be organised as a 'stand-alone' course (e.g. for farmers or land owners). This working method will enable us to create a multiplicator effect and reach a significantly broader audience. It will also ensure the afterlife of the project's results. To guarantee that the training course meets the needs of the target group, the content will be tested by organising pilot training courses in the 'importing' partner countries (Belgium and Romania).

Concrete aims of the Project

The trainers will be trained to a more advanced level in veteran tree management during a 3 day workshop, that will include an educational component. Being on a more advanced level, this workshop might also answer the needs of certain stakeholders in 'exporting' countries (UK, Sweden, Spain) who already have reached a basic level in veteran tree management. The trainers will be provided with specialist technical material (handbook, case studies, …) and 'ready-to-use' course material in their native languages. They will be supported through a website with basic e-learning  tools, video material and a mentoring system where specialists can be contacted (both during and after the project). This website will sow the seeds of a European Veteran Tree Network (at least informal and in the 5 participating countries), exchanging knowledge on veteran tree management.

Project progress

During the course of the project all the training products were tested in pilot workshops. The pilot basic workshops have been held at the end of 2013, the more advanced 'Train the trainers' workshops took place during spring and summer 2014.