Hunt for 'tree graffiti' in the New Forest

Hunt for 'tree graffiti' in the New Forest

Published by Mike Draper at 6:05am 6th February 2020.

3 minute read

The search is on for scribblings on trees in the famous area from many years ago.

Graffiti is seen as a modern blight on urban areas, but in the depths of the Forest, marks on trees from many years ago can reveal how some of our ancestors used the area.

The New Forest National Park Authority (NPA) is urging visitors to record sightings of markings, known as an arborglyph, describing them as a "window in the past."


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.

WW2 graffiti New Forest
Some trees have markings dating back to World War Two.

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. 

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.

Witch mark New Forest
A witch mark carved into a tree in the New Forest.


However, much like archaeological remains, tree graffiti 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 is reminding people not to enter private land.

Ancient tree New Forest
Take a closer peak at some of the ancient trees next time you're out for a stroll!


Make sure you 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.



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