ONE of the world's oldest and rarest trees has been planted at a Great Witley school.

The Woollemi Pine, which stood alongside dinosaurs, now forms part of the gardens surrounding Abberley Hall School.

The tree was donated by Abbey Forestry, who maintain the 90 acres of land surrounding the school, as part of a long-standing tradition.

Headmaster John Walker said: “Abberley Hall was owned by John Joseph Jones in the 1880s and he started a tradition of planting newly-discovered species when re-designing the estate and this custom has continued to today.

“We are very honoured by the gift of the Woollemi Pine, especially as there are less than 100 adult trees in the wild. It will be a fascinating talking point for our pupils, especially when we are teaching them about ecology and botany.”

Bede Howell, a director of Abbey Forestry, said that the species dated back to the time of the dinosaurs.

He said: “It was found growing in a rainforest gorge near Sydney in 1994 and its discovery was a sensation.

“As it is really rare, efforts had to be made to conserve it in its natural state. To fund this, samples and seeds were brought to various botanic gardens which began to grow and exhibit the plants.

“The one at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, was within a very secure cage to prevent theft. In due time, more young trees became available on the market and, following in the spirit of John Joseph Jones, Abberley Hall now has one planted."