THE largest collection of ancient oak trees in Europe has been found hiding in the grounds of Blenheim Palace.

It is thought an area of the estate, called High Park, was originally created by King Henry I as part of a royal deer park in the 12th century.

Around 90 per cent of the woodland is made up of oak trees and it has recently been discovered that at least 60 of these date back to the middle ages, making them the oldest collection in Europe.

Experts say the 900-year-old trees have been preserved through a combination of the royal love of hunting – and landscape designer Lancelot 'Capability' Brown's respect for ancient woodland.

Aljos Farjon, who was researching the trees when he discovered the new information, said: "High Park is in my view the most stunning site in Europe for ancient oaks.

"No other landscape in England has greater biodiversity, especially from invertebrates, fungi and lichens."

The ancient woodlands support more than 100 different protected and notable species of fauna and flora, including around 50 different types of beetle and 16 butterfly and moth species.

Other wildlife recorded in the forest includes otters, water voles, ospreys, lizards, grass snakes and great crested newts.

Until recently it was thought that a massive tree, known as the King Oak, which is more than nine metres in diameter and estimated to be at least 920 years old, was the most ancient surviving tree.

However, members of Blenheim Palace's forestry team believe they may have discovered an even larger oak deeper in the woods that could be older.

The Woodstock estate, where Sir Winston Churchill was born, was designed by Capability Brown in the early 18th century.

Blenheim Palace has recently been celebrating the man responsible for its 'magnificent' surroundings as it launched an exhibition to mark the 300th anniversary of his birth.

The gardener changed the face of England by designing country estates and mansions, moving hills and creating flowing lakes and rivers.

And the Woodstock palace benefited from his handiwork from 1763 to 1774.

The exhibition runs until May 2 and features photography, drawings, equipment, costumes and stitched textiles showing how he created the masterpiece.

In 1987 Blenheim Palace and parkland were designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site reflecting the importance of the architectural and landscape design work undertaken in the 18th century.