Ancient sigils and symbols etched on to trees in England’s New Forest documented in a new public database

Trees in the New Forest of England that have been etched with sigils and symbols from ancient times are being documented as part of a citizen science project.

More than 100 examples of “ancient tree graffiti” have been been put on display online at the New Forest National Park’s website. It follows a call made earlier this year by the New Forest National Park Authority (NPA) for the public to take a photograph of any marks on trees that they find within the forest and to share them.

It is understood that the 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.

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 those in search of protection.

Among the most common tree graffiti in the New Forest is the King’s Mark. 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 includes pictures carved into trees including eagles, boats, houses and even people. Concentric circles, commonly referred to as “witch’s marks”, have also been carved into trees to ward off evil spirits.

The NPA said: “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.

“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.”

The New Forest became a national park in 2005 and was once a royal hunting ground for William the Conqueror.It covers an area of 566 square kilometres and is made up of vast tracts of unspoilt woodland, heathland and river valleys. Today deer, ponies and cattle continue to roam free in its ancient heaths and woodland.

New Forest National Park

Rosa Medea is Life & Soul Magazine’s Chief. She writes about lifestyle including sustainable and green living. She also offers content services to businesses and individuals at

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