what is ancient woodland

Ancient Woodlands – what’s all the fuss about?

14th September 2020

At Make it Wild, we are proud to say that our Bank Woods Nature Reserve is home to around 20 acres of ancient woodland. Ancient woodland is an important and irreplaceable part of nature, but according to the Woodland Trust, it now covers only 2.4% of the UK.  

Katie Chedgzoy, our Business Development Intern explains why it is so important.

What is Ancient Woodland?

Ancient Woodland is the name given to areas of woodland that have existed continuously since 1600 in England and Wales, and 1750 in Scotland. Around this time, maps started to become reasonably accurate, so we know that these areas have had tree cover for hundreds of years.

These areas have been mostly undisturbed, so they are home to rare and threatened species of plants, fungi, insects, and other microorganisms. The biodiversity that exists in ancient woodland is unlike that found anywhere else. Ancient Woodlands are therefore a unique and valuable part of our environment; many plant and animal species found here cannot be found elsewhere. Certain species of plants, insects, lichens, and molluscs provide evidence that a site has been continuously wooded for a long time. These species are known as ancient woodland indicators, and the higher the number found in a wood, the greater the likelihood that the wood can be classified as ancient.

In Summer 2019, after a detailed survey by a group of botanists, to our delight, the Ancient Woodland at Bank Woods, along with the nearby meadows, was recognised as a Site of Importance for Nature Conservation (SINC). This was in recognition of over 70 different species of wildflower which were found there. Of 62 ancient woodland indicator species, we have at least 22 at Bank Woods, namely Barren Strawberry, Bluebell, Bugle, Common Dog Violet, Dog’s Mercury, Early Purple Orchid, Enchanter’s Nightshade, Hairy Woodrush, Heath Bedstraw, Herb-Robert, Lady Fern, Male Fern, Pignut, Rowan, Sanicle, Toothwort, Tormentil, Wood Avens, Wood Sage, Wood Sorrel, Wood Speedwell and Yellow Pimpernel.

Why should Ancient Woodland be protected?

Currently in the UK, 1,225 ancient woodlands are under threat of destruction or deterioration. In the last 80 years, almost half of the UK’s ancient woodland has been lost. Woods have been felled and replanted with non-native conifers, which grow rapidly for timber. Others are cleared completely for agriculture and construction. But once ancient woodland is gone, it is gone for good.

Ancient woodlands are hundreds of years old, and cannot be easily replaced. Planting new trees is not a solution. The complex ecological communities found in ancient woodland cannot be reinstated. Features such as decaying wood, and soil that has been undisturbed for hundreds of years are what make these ecosystems thrive. They contain countless species of fungi and invertebrates that don’t grow anywhere else. They can be considered the ‘Rain Forests’ of England. Ancient woodland contains more threatened species than any other habitat in the UK, if these woods are destroyed, the endangered species may become extinct.

The biodiversity in ancient woodlands must be preserved if we want to increase biodiversity in other natural spaces. Ecosystems are intimately linked, and damaging one causes damage to nearby ecosystems too. At Make it Wild, our aim is to protect and preserve nature, and we believe that protecting ancient woodland will help to protect the wider environment.

Ancient woodlands store vast amounts of carbon – if their plants and trees are destroyed, then all the carbon they hold will be released back into the atmosphere. There it will contribute to climate change and further damage the environment. For this reason if no other, ancient trees are extremely valuable and must be protected.

Unfortunately, we have too many deer in our ancient woodlands, and this is causing a problem. They eat any seedlings which grow, meaning that as the older trees reach the end of their lives, as of course they will, there won’t be any young trees to take their places. To ensure the survival of our precious ancient woodlands, we have decided to do something about this, and have invested in deer fencing to enclose the largest three ancient woodlands.

How Can I Help?

The ancient woodland at Bank Woods is truly wonderful. We have over 30 veteran trees, each recorded on the Woodland Trust Ancient Tree Inventory. They are all between 200 and 300 years old! If you would like to help to protect our ancient woodland, you can sponsor one of our Century Old Trees here.

You can also sponsor a ‘Living Bluebell Bouquet’ to help us to protect these beautiful wildflower, which are a fantastic feature of our ancient woodland.

The ancient woodland at Bank Woods will be protected for many years to come, and we hope its biodiversity will continue to increase and thrive. Unfortunately, many other ancient woodlands around the country do not have such protection. Many are currently under threat. We think this is an outrage.