SEVERAL veteran and ancient trees have been given a vital health check by volunteers at Wych Lodge, near Staple Fitzpaine.

Neroche Conservation Volunteers, part of Neroche Woodlanders social enterprise, spent a day working with Forestry England to manually clear bramble and other vegetation that was crowding the forest’s historically and ecologically important trees.

Forestry England community ranger, Rob Greenhalgh, said: “Wych Lodge has an unusually high number of veteran and ancient trees thanks to its history as a hunting Forest.

“This would have included a mixture of tree stands dotted, grass pasture, and open spaces. These ancient trees are an integral part of the forest ecosystem here as their diverse features provide the perfect habitat for birds, bats, minibeasts, rare lichen, fungi, and more.

“But plants and trees such as bramble and hazel start to compete with the veteran trees and before too long they can be swamped. The halo work we are carrying out is vital to the trees’ survival for another 300 years.

“Help from groups such as Neroche Conservation Volunteers is essential keeping these trees as healthy as possible.

“Luckily, the sun shone for us and the team was super energetic, making a great difference during the day. And, of course, it’s always a pleasure to show off these wonderful trees to people who might not have seen them before.”

Peter Maben, for Neroche Conservation Volunteers, said: “As a conservation group, we carry out a huge range of woodland management tasks and are always ready to get hands-on. But, even for us, working up close to the veteran trees at Wych Lodge is rather special and it is a pleasure to know that our efforts can extend the lives of these awe-inspiring living things.”

Veteran and ancient trees are defined not just by their age, but by their special features. These might include an extra-wide trunk, which might be hollow, creviced bark, and cavities where branches have broken away.

Veteran and ancient trees provide unique habitats for a wide variety of species that rely on the trees for their homes and food. Wych Lodge boasts some of Somerset’s most stunning ancient trees which the public is welcome to visit.

There are no waymarked walking routes in the forest, but the trees can be located with grid reference ST 247 191.