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Search is on for historic tree graffiti in the New Forest

Search is on for historic tree graffiti in the New Forest


Graffiti is seen as a modern blight on urban areas, but in the depths of the Forest, scribblings on trees from many years ago are a window into the past, revealing how some of our ancestors used the area.

Now, the New Forest National Park Authority is calling for sightings of this ‘tree graffiti’ – some of which dates back hundreds of years.

Your findings will help to map and record the lost and forgotten stories of the New Forest woodlands in a new database which the public can access. It will allow everyone from researchers and landowners to schools and community groups to see how people have interacted with trees here over the centuries.

Trees have always been part of human culture, evidence of which survives through the various marks people have etched onto them.

Initials, dates, pictures, poems and royal marks can all be found throughout the New Forest. These marks have been left by many different people, including foresters, Second World War soldiers, Kingsmen and even those wanting protection from witches.

Among the most common tree graffiti in the New Forest is the King’s Mark. Lawrence Shaw, archaeologist at the New Forest NPA explained: ‘This is shown as a broad arrow head, and was used to identify trees reserved for building Royal Navy ships. Once iron and steel were introduced to shipbuilding, the trees remained untouched, and still bear their royal mark to this day.’

Other graffiti to look out for are initials and names. Or if you’re very lucky you may find a picture carved into a tree. These vary from eagles to boats, houses and even people. Concentric circles, or ‘witch marks’, are thought to have been carved into trees to ward off evil spirits.

However, much like archaeological remains, tree graffiti (also known as an arborglyph) is under threat. Over time, the marks are warping or are being damaged by animals or humans. Trees blowing over or dying also threaten the longevity of these historic records.

Lawrence Shaw added: ‘To date, there’s no central record of the known tree graffiti found across the New Forest. We want to be able to refer back to these glimpses into the New Forest’s past, even when the trees themselves are lost.’

Lucy Saunders, assistant tree officer at the New Forest NPA said: ‘The New Forest is lucky to have the densest population of ancient and veteran trees in Western Europe. These come with a lot of stories, as well as old graffiti you might not find anywhere else in the country.’

The New Forest NPA is only looking to record the tree graffiti found across public woodlands in the New Forest, and asks people not to enter private land.

When out for a stroll, take a photograph of any marks that you find and share them via along with their location. Please remember that New Forest trees are fragile and support an array of life, so don’t carve any new marks on trees.

For further information, visit

Links to photographs below


About the New Forest National Park Authority

Protect – Enjoy – Prosper

The New Forest National Park Authority’s statutory purposes are to:
-Conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of the Park – Protect.
-Promote opportunities for understanding and enjoyment of its special qualities – Enjoy.

We also have a duty to:
Seek to foster the social and economic well-being of local communities within the Park – Prosper.

The New Forest National Park was designated in March 2005. Its unique landscape has been shaped over the centuries by grazing ponies, cattle and pigs which roam free. Majestic woodlands, rare heathland and a spectacular coastline provide fabulous opportunities for quiet recreation, enjoyment and discovery.

Visit to find out more.

Maria Court, Communications Officer
New Forest National Park Authority
Tel: 01590 646650


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