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.
* 1 Protection
* 2 Characteristics
* 3 History
* 4 Boundary marking
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
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 1181 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 .
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 , and primrose for example representing a type of ecological indicator . Anemone nemorosa
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
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
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
ANCIENT WOODLAND INVENTORIES
Britain's ancient woodland cover has declined greatly. Since the
1930s almost half of ancient broadleaved woodland in
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
Bedgebury Forest , Kent
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