VISITORS to the New Forest are being asked to report historic tree graffiti so the national park authority can record an insight into its past.
Although graffiti is seen as a modern blight on urban areas, scribblings on trees from many years ago are a window into the past, revealing how generations have used the area.
Initials, dates, pictures, poems and royal marks can all be found throughout the New Forest.
The 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.
National park authority archaeologist Lawrence Shaw said: “This is shown as a broad arrowhead 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.”
The public findings will help to map and record the lost and forgotten stories of the area’s woodlands in a new database. 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.
However, much like archaeological remains, tree graffiti – also known as an arborglyph – is under threat. Over time, the marks warp or are damaged by animals or humans.
Trees blowing over or dying also threaten the longevity of these historic records.
Lawrence 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 past, even when the trees themselves are lost.”
Assistant tree officer at the NPA, Lucy Saunders, added: “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 NPA wants to record only the tree graffiti found across public woodlands in the New Forest and asks people not to enter private land.
Anyone who spots tree graffiti is asked to take a photograph of it, noting its location and upload it to www.newforest.gov.uk/treegraffiti.