In the United Kingdom, an ancient woodland is a woodland that has
existed continuously since 1600 or before in England,
Northern Ireland (or 1750 in Scotland). Before those dates,
planting of new woodland was uncommon, so a wood present in 1600 was
likely to have developed naturally.
In most ancient woods, the trees and shrubs have been cut down
periodically as part of the management cycle. Provided that the area
has remained as woodland, the stand is still considered ancient. Since
it may have been cut over many times in the past, ancient woodland
does not necessarily contain very old trees.
For many species of animal and plant, ancient woodland sites provide
the sole habitat, and for many others, conditions on these sites are
much more suitable than those on other sites.
Ancient woodland in the
UK, like rainforest in the tropics, is home to rare and threatened
species. For these reasons ancient woodland is often described as an
irreplaceable resource, or 'critical natural capital'.
Ancient woodland is formally defined on maps by Natural
equivalent bodies. Mapping of ancient woodland has been undertaken in
different ways and at different times, and the quality and
availability of data varies from region to region, although there are
some efforts to standardise and update it.
4 Boundary marking
Ancient woodland inventories
9 See also
11 External links
Many ancient woodlands have legal protection of various types, but it
is not automatically the case that any ancient woodland is protected.
Some examples of ancient woodland are nationally or locally
designated, for example as Sites of
Special Scientific Interest.
Others have no designations.
Ancient woodlands also require special consideration when they are
affected by planning application. The National Planning Policy
Framework published in 2012 is the government policy document relating
to planning decisions affecting ancient woodland. The importance of
ancient woodlands as an irreplaceable habitat is set out in paragraph
118 of the NPPF, which states: ‘planning permission should be
refused for development resulting in the loss or deterioration of
irreplaceable habitats, including ancient woodland and the loss of
aged or veteran trees found outside ancient woodland, unless the need
for, and benefits of, the development in that location clearly
outweigh the loss.’
Blossom of lesser celandine (Ranunculus ficaria)
The concept of ancient woodland, rich in plant diversity and managed
through traditional practices, was developed by the ecologist Oliver
Rackham in his 1980 book Ancient Woodland, its History, Vegetation and
Uses in England, which he wrote following his earlier research on
Hayley Wood in Cambridgeshire.
Close-up of the yellow rattle flowers
The definition of ancient woodland includes two sub-types: Ancient
semi-natural woodland (ASNW) and Planted ancient woodland site (PAWS).
Ancient semi-natural woodland (ASNW) is composed of native tree
species that have not obviously been planted; features of ancient
woodland often survive in many of these woods as well, including
characteristic wildlife and structures of archaeological interest.
Planted ancient woodland (PAWS) is an ancient woodland site where the
native species have been partially or wholly replaced with a non
locally native species (usually but not always conifers). These
woodlands typically have a plantation structure, with even aged crops
of one or two species planted for commercial purposes. Many of these
ancient woodlands were converted to conifer plantations following
war-time fellings. PAWS sites, whilst not being of such high
ecological value as ASNW, typically contain remnants of semi-natural
species where shading has been less intense, and restoration of more
semi-natural structures through gradual thinning is often possible.
Since the recognition of the ecological and historical values of
ancient woodland, PAWS restoration has been a priority amongst many
woodland owners and governmental and non-governmental agencies, and
has been supported by various grant schemes. Some restored PAWS sites
are now practically indistinguishable from ASNW. There is no formal
method for reclassifying restored PAWS as ASNW, although some woodland
managers now use the acronym RPAWS for a restored site.
Species which are particularly characteristic of ancient woodland
sites are called ancient woodland indicator species, such as
bluebells, lesser celandine, wood anemone, yellow rattle and primrose
for example representing a type of ecological indicator.
The term tends to be applied more usefully to desiccation-sensitive
plant species, and particularly lichens and bryophytes, than to
animals, as they are slower to colonise planted woodlands, and are
thus viewed as more reliable indicators of ancient woodland sites.
Sequences of pollen analysis are also indicators of forest continuity.
Lists of ancient woodland indicator species among vascular plants were
developed by the
Nature Conservancy Council
Nature Conservancy Council (now Natural England) for
each region of England, each list containing the hundred most reliable
indicators for that region. The methodology involved studying the
plants of known woodland sites and analysing patterns of occurrence to
determine which species were most indicative of sites from before
England this resulted in the first national Ancient Woodland
Inventory, produced in the 1980s.
Although ancient woodland indicator species can and do occur in
post-1600 woodlands, and also in non-woodland sites such as hedgerows,
it is uncommon for a site which is not ancient woodland to host a
double-figure indicator species total. More recent methodologies
also supplement these field observations and ecological measurements
with historical data from maps and local records, which were not fully
assessed in the original
Nature Conservancy Council
Nature Conservancy Council surveys.
Wattle in construction
Ancient woods were valuable properties for their owners, as a source
of wood fuel, timber (estovers and loppage) and forage for pigs
(pannage). In southern England, hazel was particularly important for
coppicing, the branches being used for wattle and daub in buildings,
for example. Such old coppice stumps are easily recognised for their
current overgrown state, now that the practice has largely
disappeared. Large boles emerge from a common stump in such overgrown
coppice stools. Originally, the term of 'forest' did not refer solely
to woodland; it also included parkland, open heathland, upland fells,
and any other territory, between or outside of manorial freehold, and
was the exclusive hunting preserve of the monarch, or granted to
nobility. The ancient woods that were within forests, were frequently
Royal Parks, enjoying special protection against poachers and other
interlopers, and subject to tolls and fines where trackways passed
through them or when firewood was permitted to be collected or other
licence granted. The forest law was very strictly enforced, by a
hierarchy of foresters, parkers and woodwards. In English land law, it
was illegal to assart any part of a royal forest. This was the
greatest trespass that could be committed in a forest, being more than
a waste: for whereas waste of the forest involves felling trees, they
can grow again; assarting involves completely rooting up trees within
the woodland of the afforested area.
Ancient woods were well-defined, often being surrounded by a bank and
ditch, so that they could be easily recognised. The bank may also
support a living fence of hawthorn or blackthorn to prevent livestock
or deer entering. They are attracted by young shoots on coppice
stools, so must be excluded if the coppice is to regenerate. Such
indicators can still be seen in many ancient woodlands, and large
forest are often sub-divided into woods and coppices with banks and
ditches as before. The hedges at the edges are often overgrown and may
have spread laterally owing to the neglect of many years.
Many ancient woods are described in the Domesday Book, as well as the
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, such was their value to early communities as a
source of fuel, but also of food for farm animals. The boundaries are
frequently described in terms of features such as large trees, streams
or tracks, and even standing stones for example.
Ancient woodland inventories
Ancient woodland sites over 2 hectares (5 acres) in size are recorded
Woodland Inventories, compiled in the 1980s and 1990s by
Nature Conservancy Council
Nature Conservancy Council in England, Wales, and Scotland;
and maintained by its successor organisations in those countries.
There was no inventory in
Northern Ireland until the
completed one in 2006.
Britain's ancient woodland cover has declined greatly. Since the 1930s
almost half of ancient broadleaved woodland in
been planted with conifers or cleared for agriculture. Only 3,090
square kilometres (760,000 acres) of ancient semi-natural woodland
survive in Britain – less than 20% of the total wooded area. More
than eight out of ten ancient woodland sites in
less than 200,000 square metres (49 acres) in area, only 501 exceed 1
square kilometre (250 acres) and a mere fourteen are larger than 3
square kilometres (740 acres).
A recently coppiced alder stool in Hampshire
Ancient pollarded beech tree in Epping Forest, Essex, England
Most ancient woodland in the UK has been managed in some way by humans
for hundreds (in some cases probably thousands) of years. Two
traditional techniques are coppicing (harvesting wood by cutting trees
back to ground level) and pollarding (harvesting wood at about human
head height to prevent new shoots being eaten by grazing species such
as deer). Both techniques encourage new growth while allowing the
sustainable production of timber and other woodland produce. During
the 20th century, use of such traditional management techniques has
declined while there has been an increase in large-scale mechanised
forestry. Thus coppicing is now rarely practised, and overgrown
coppice stools are a common sight in many ancient woods, with their
many trunks of similar size. These changes in management methods have
resulted in changes to ancient woodland habitats, and a loss of
ancient woodland to forestry.
Main article: List of Ancient Woods in England
Bedgebury Forest, Kent
Bernwood Forest, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire
Bradfield Woods, Suffolk
Burnham Beeches, Bucks
Cannock Chase, Staffordshire
Tree Wood, London
Coldfall Wood, London
Edford Woods and Meadows, Somerset
Epping Forest, Essex
Forest of Dean
Forest of Dean West Gloucestershire
Foxley Wood, Norfolk
Grass Wood, Wharfedale, Yorkshire
Hatfield Forest, Essex
Hazleborough Wood, Northamptonshire, part of Whittlewood Forest
Highgate Wood, London
Holt Heath, Dorset
King's Wood, Heath and Reach, Bedfordshire
Lower Woods, Gloucestershire
New Forest, Hampshire
Parkhurst Forest, Isle of Wight
Puzzlewood, in the Forest of Dean
Queen's Wood, London
Ryton Woods, Warwickshire
Salcey Forest, Northamptonshire
Savernake forest, Wiltshire
Sherwood Forest, Nottinghamshire
Snakes Wood, Suffolk
Titnore Wood, West Sussex
Vincients Wood, Wiltshire
Whinfell Forest, Cumbria
Windsor Great Park, Berkshire
Whittlewood Forest, Northamptonshire
Wormshill, Kent: Barrows Wood, Trundle Wood and High Wood
Wyre Forest bordering Shropshire and Worcestershire
Yardley Chase, Northamptonshire
Wistman's Wood, Devon
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^ a b c "National Ancient
Woodland and Veteran
Tree Standing Advice
England i" (PDF). Natural
England and the Forestry
Commission. 2014. Retrieved 18 May 2014.
^ "What is ancient woodland?". Back on The Map.
Archived from the original on 19 May 2014. Retrieved 19 May
^ "Standing Advice for ancient woodland" (PDF). Natural England. 30
May 2012. Retrieved 16 March 2014.
Wales Reclaiming our Forgotten Inheritance
^ Rist, Katharine (2014-02-20). "A facelift for the Ancient Woodland
Woodland Trust. Retrieved 16 March 2014.
^ Professor Oliver Rackham, historical ecologist - obituary, The
Telegraph, 19 February 2015
^ G. F. Peterken, "A Method for Assessing
Woodland Flora for
Conservation Using Indicator Species", Biological Conservation 6
^ Mild and moist sites in Ireland at Connemara and in the Killarney
Valley have shown AWIs to be occurring in secondary woodland: Centre
for Earth and Environmental Science Research, Kingston University: Dr
Michael Grant and Dr Petra Dark, "Re-evaluating the concept of
woodland continuity and change in Epping Forest"
^ Spencer, J. and Kirby, K. (1992) An inventory of Ancient Woodland
England and Wales. Biological Conservation 62, 77-93
^ Walker, G.J. and Kirby, K.J. (1989) Inventories of ancient,
long-established and semi-natural woodland for Scotland. Nature
Conservancy Council: Research and survey in nature conservation No. 22
Woodland Trust's search for Northern Ireland's oldest woods
Archived November 12, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.
Woodland Trust page on ancient woodland loss Archived September
27, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.
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