Caring for Land

His job is to see the forest for its trees

Elizabeth Renzetti Ripon, Yorkshire — From Saturday's Globe and Mail Published on Saturday, Nov. 21, 2009 12:00AM EST

The giant, gnarled tree on the grounds of Fountains Abbey has lived through history. Almost 500 years ago, when Henry VIII's soldiers galloped past with orders to dissolve the nearby monastery, this sweet chestnut was already a century old. It is the Prince Philip of trees - weathered, unbending, seemingly impervious to the passing of time.

"That is just a stunning tree," says the man at its base, who is a bit weathered himself. Actually he looks like an aging rock star, with his wraparound sunglasses and hand-rolled cigarette burning between two fingers, but Brian Muelaner, 58, has a much grander title than any pop star. He is the Ancient Tree Adviser for the National Trust, the British charity that looks after 25,000 hectares of woodland and some of the country's most famous historic buildings.