Hug a tree

Hug a tree to see if it’s ancient or not

Britain is thought to have the greatest number of ancient trees in Northern Europe. Many of these gentle giants have been around for centuries, and many of them will continue to thrive long after we have gone, silently observing human progress. A humble oak tree can live for a thousand years. Yews can survive for millennia.

Take your child on a trip to your nearest green space, and use the ‘hug’ measuring method to work out which trees are ancient.


  1. Start by figuring out how to measure the tree. The ‘hug’ method is based on the fingertip to fingertip measurement of an adult (spanning approximately 1.5 metres on average). This means you’ll always have a good idea of whether a tree is ancient or not, even if you forget to bring the tape measure.
  2. If they are old enough, help your child to understand how and why you are doing things this way, with some simple maths. For example, we know that an ancient Sweet Chesnut tree measures around six metres. If the average ‘hug’ measures 1.5 metres, then an anicent Sweet Chesnut tree will measure around four hugs. Similarly, if an anicent Beech tree measures three metres, it will measure around two adult hugs, and so on.
  3. We recommend that you as the adult – with the larger arm span – do the hugging itself, while the child counts the hugs and helps look for alternative signs of aging among the trees.
  4. A full list of these other signs can be found here – some of the easier-to-spot factors include sap running down the bark, decay holes, or a generally old, enchanting appearance (otherwise known as the ‘wow!’ factor). Talk to your child about these signs, and what they might mean.

According to the Woodland Trust, a tree might be ancient if it has the following measurements:

Oak – three adult hugs
Beech – two adult hugs
Scots Pine – one adult hug
Rowan – one adult hug
Birch – a wrist hug
Hawthorn – an elbow hug
Cedar of Lebanon- four adult hugs
Field Maple – one adult hug
Sweet Chestnut – four adult hugs
Ash – two adult hugs

Alternative idea: if you don’t want to measure the trees, you can still spend an hour or so just hugging them and thanking them for their services. After all, a world without trees would be in a sorry state indeed.