THEY were carved into trees in the New Forest centuries ago and provide a fascinating insight into the distant past.

Initials, dates and royal symbols can be found at woodland sites across the national park - thanks to previous generations who literally left their mark on the area.

Now more than 100 examples of "tree graffiti" have been logged for posterity before they are lost forever.

Salisbury Journal:

Many of the etchings are being damaged by animals and people. Trees blowing over or dying of old age also pose a threat to the survival of the historic records, which include artistic attempts to ward off evil spirits.

The graffiti has been recorded on a database set up by the National Park Authority (NPA), which is striving to document the Forest's rich history.

One of the most common symbols in the King's Mark, used to identify timber that might be needed in the construction of Royal Navy vessels in the 18th and early 19th century.

Buckler's Hard was a major shipbuilding centre that produced some of the ships which fought at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.

The trees were spared following the increasing use of iron and steel but still bear their royal mark.

Some of the more recent carvings are thought to have been made by US serviceman based at RAF Stoney Cross, near Fritham, during the Second World War. The bomber base was a hive of activity during the build-up to the D-Day landings in June 1944.

Salisbury Journal:

The project to record the graffiti was launched earlier this year.

Speaking at the time NPA archaeologist Lawrence Shaw said: "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 Forest’s past, even when the trees themselves are lost."

Assistant tree officer Lucy Saunders, who has since left the authority, added: "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."