Plantations on Ancient Woodland Sites

What is Ancient Woodland?

A woodland site is considered to be ancient if it has been continuously wooded since 1600AD. This does not mean there has been continuous woodland cover over the whole site. Open spaces, either permanent or temporary, are important elements of ancient woodland.

It contains ancient semi-natural woodland mainly made up of trees and shrubs native to the site, usually arising from natural regeneration. As the name suggests, ancient woodland takes hundreds of years to establish and is defined as an irreplaceable habitat.

Is your Woodland Ancient?

The first step to determine whether your woodland is classed as ancient would be to look at an ancient woodland inventory. These document historic woodland from an examination of old maps. There are also a number of ancient woodland indicator species, such as bluebells and primroses which can be considered alongside other evidence.

Explore the Ancient Woodland Inventory (on MAGIC under Habitats and Species> Woodland) to determine whether your native woodland is listed.

History of Plantations on Ancient Woodland Sites

During the 1950s, 60s and 70s the Forestry Commission was driven to make woodlands more productive. This involved many ancient woods being planted up with exotic conifer species. This was very damaging as the light needed by native species was no longer available under the dense conifer canopy.

During recent years, we have been assessing PAWS sites and helping owners and agents to sensitively restore them. The Woodland Trust has funded this work and we are immensely grateful to them.

The Obvious Solution

It is easy to think that wholesale clearance of the conifers is the best thing to do but this will result in massive, sudden changes to woodland habitats and conditions. The dramatic rise in light levels and exposure and decrease in humidity can severely damage the remaining ancient woodland features that need protection.

The Right Approach

A much better way of managing these sites is to identify the ancient woodland hotspots, hence the assessments. We can then gently open these up to allow plants to flower, set seed and become more robust prior to any more major management. This approach also includes halo thinning veteran trees that were present prior to planting with conifers, as they also constitute ancient woodland remnants. Halo thinning helps them expand their canopy and set more seed.

PAWS Management Approach

Cumbria Woodlands offers a structured approach to PAWS and ASNW (ancient, semi-native woodland) management.

Cumbria Woodland's Webinar

Edward Mills, forestry advisor and previous director of Cumbria Woodlands talks through Woodland Restoration and the challenges of Rhododendron

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