575 ancient woods across the UK are currently under threat from development according to new Woodland Trust figures, with revised planning laws still failing to protect the irreplaceable habitats.
The charity is renewing its call for better care and protection of ancient woods, which in many cases will be thousands of years old. It is looking for ‘Threat Reporters’ to sign up and identify cases of ancient woods under threat and has also launched a new guide to help communities and landowners identify areas of ‘planted ancient woodland’1 which could be restored.
Around 50% of the charity’s current cases involve ancient woods which were once covered in native broadleaf trees before being under-planted or felled and replanted with conifers or non-native species during the last century.
Although these sites are often assumed to be damaged beyond repair and of lesser ecological value, research demonstrates that they often retain important features such as specialist ground flora, standing deadwood, pre-plantation trees and cultural remains. These are the building blocks for restoration and the Trust works closely with landowners across the UK to advise and support the restoration of this woodland to ensure their value is conserved and enhanced for generations to come.
Oliver Newham from the Woodland Trust, said: “Changes to the planning system in 2012 were supposed to help prevent ancient woodland from coming under threat, yet our caseload is as high as ever.
“We are seeing more positive action taken by landowners looking to manage and restore areas of ancient woodland under threat from overshading by non-native species. The first step in this process is recognising some of the tell-tale features that may remain in these woods and we hope our guidance will help people learn more about this irreplaceable habitat.”
Spring in particular is a great time of year to identify ancient woodland features, from native bluebells to wild garlic, wood anemones and lesser celandine. The new guide produced by the Trust identifies a number of ancient woodland features, which may help woodland owners consider a site for restoration.
The charity is three years into a five year £2.9m Heritage Lottery Fund project which aspires to support the restoration of up to 52,000 hectares of ancient woodland in 10 project areas throughout the UK2. To date over 5,600 hectares have been committed to restoration.
The process sees areas which were once native broadleaf woodland and have since been replaced or overwhelmed by non-native species gradually returned to predominately native species over a number of years. The key to this approach is to increase light levels to allow native plants and trees to thrive once more.
For more information on how you can help the Trust visit woodlandtrust.org.uk/restoration