A new online database has launched that allows users to browse more than 100 examples of graffiti etched on trees in the New Forest in England. The New Forest National Park Authority (NPA) has curated examples of symbols and writing on trees at the national park, some of which date back hundreds of years, including marks from those seeking protection from witches.

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The markings have been added to a digital database © New Forest NPA

The 28,924.5-hectare national park is located in the south of England, and it was designated a national park in 2005 to give it the highest level of protection and preserve it for the future. It was proclaimed a royal forest by William the Conqueror, and remains a habitat for many rare birds and mammals. Earlier this year, the New Forest NPA put out a public call for sightings of tree graffiti, saying that "scribblings on trees from many years ago are a window into the past, revealing how some of our ancestors used the area."

Graffiti carved into a tree in the New Forest
The King’s Mark identified trees reserved for building Royal Navy ships © New Forest NPA

According to the New Forest NPA, initials, dates, pictures, poems and royal marks can all be found throughout the park, although it warns against people carving trees today. Among the most common tree graffiti is the King’s Mark, used to identify trees reserved for building Royal Navy ships. Once iron and steel were introduced to shipbuilding, the trees remained untouched, but still bear their royal mark.

Pictures including eagles, boats, houses and people have been discovered as well as concentric circles, or ‘witch marks,’ thought to have been carved into trees to ward off evil spirits. The New Forest NPA wanted to document the tree graffiti because 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.

Graffiti carved into a tree in the New Forest
Initials and dates can be found throughout the park © New Forest NPA

According to Lawrence Shaw, archaeologist at the New Forest NPA, the project came about because there was 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," he said. You can see the graffiti database online here.

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