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Fascinating historical graffiti found carved into New Forest trees

Ancient graffiti carved into trees in the New Forest centuries ago have been recorded onto an official database.

More than 100 examples of the historic carvings, including ‘witch marks’ made to ward off evil spirits and a message commemorating the ‘summer of love’ in 1967, have been identified in the Hampshire forest.

The fascinating discoveries, which have now been logged onto a database, come after the New Forest National Park Authority launched a study aimed at preserving the forest’s rich history. 

One of the most common marks spotted was the ‘King’s Mark’, a broad arrow head used to identify trees reserved for building Royal Navy ships in the 18th and early 19th century.

While the trees remained untouched once iron and steel were introduced to shipbuilding, they still bear their royal mark to this day.

There are also examples of concentric circles, or ‘witch marks’, which were carved into trees to ward off evil spirits.

Other markings are thought to have been made by U.S. serviceman during the Second World War while they were stationed at the nearby airfield RAF Stoney Cross.

The maternal grandfather of former U.S. President Barack Obama, US Army Sergeant Stanley Armour Dunham, was also stationed there briefly ahead of D-Day.

Over time the marks have been warping and have endured damage from animals or humans – prompting the study to ‘preserve’ the forest’s rich history.  

Lawrence Shaw, archaeologist at the New Forest NPA, said: ‘We are very grateful to have had over 100 examples of tree graffiti sent in to us by the public and there are some beautiful examples.

‘Some of the trees in the forest are up to 1,000 years old so the markings could be centuries old, although sadly they don’t have dates written next to them so we can’t know for sure.

‘There are witch marks and arrow heads for shipbuilding in the 18th and 19th centuries, as well as wonderful more modern examples such as the ‘summer of love’.

‘There are also markings which were made by US servicemen while they explored the New Forest in their spare time.

‘This project has been launched as to date there is no central record of the known tree graffiti found across the New Forest.

‘We are not encouraging new graffiti marks as this might risk damaging the trees.

‘This is about appreciating what has been done in the past and understanding how people have interacted with the New Forest over time.’

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.’

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