Some of the biggest, finest and oldest trees in England are to be found thriving in Sussex. The county’s varied landscape and general fertility has produced an astonishing variety in growth.

Sussex can boast an elm tree near the Royal Pavilion in Brighton older than the palace itself, while a nearby elm has been marked as one of Britain’s finest.

Just over a mile away are the mighty elms known as the Preston twins, 400 years old and still going strong. Located in Preston Park, they have survived the great storm of 1987 and Dutch elm disease.

Elms were the predominant tree in Sussex before the disease struck. Now it’s oaks that tend to dominate the country landscapes.

The biggest one of all is near Wadhurst but there are others rivalling it in size at Petworth and Midhurst.

Sadly these great trees now often suffer from disease – as do horse chestnuts, favourites of many small boys for their conkers.

Unlike the oaks, they grow quickly and there is one well over 100ft tall in woods near Arundel.

The largest trees of all are usually related to Californian redwoods and one at Rocks Park School near Uckfield is among Britain’s biggest specimens.

Many of the best trees are on the great estates and gardens of the Weald. Thousands of people flock each autumn to Sheffield Park to see the leaves changing colour. There are other fine specimens at Parham, Nyman’s, Cowdray Park, Borde Hill, Petworth, Wiston Park and Arundel Park, among others.

These estates go back hundreds of years and the deer park at Eridge dates from before the Norman Conquest. It boasts the largest beech tree in Britain.

Sussex is still one of the most heavily wooded counties in Britain but it used to have millions more trees.

For many centuries, trees have been used for building houses, farm buildings and ships. They were not always replaced by new planting.

Willow trees are valued for manufacturing cricket bats and one at Robertsbridge had enough wood for 2,000 of them.

There have been ceremonial plantings to mark special occasions and a V shape of trees on the Downs near Streat was created to commemorate the silver jubilee of Queen Victoria.

Benjamin Disraeli, the Tory prime minister, planted a fir in Eridge Park to mark his visit there in 1868. It grew to become the tallest tree in the county at more than 140ft.

More than 1,500 trees were planted in Alexandra Park, Hastings, to mark the coronation in 1937 of King George VI.

Huge sweet chestnut trees near Beckley are thought to have been planted in 1588 to commemorate the defeat the Spanish Armada.

The oldest trees of all are often yews and can usually be found in churchyards. There is a notable specimen at Wilmington with views of the Long Man. It is about 1,600 years old, 23ft around the base and has to be supported by struts.

Sussex also has the greatest number of yews in Europe at one place in Kingley Vale, near Chichester.

The most ancient yew at Coldwaltham is reckoned by tree experts to be about 3,000 years old. Another at Crowhurst was certainly alive and venerable at the time of the Battle of Hastings.

  • Further details can be found in The Sussex Tree Book by Owen Johnson (Pomegranate Press £9.99)