What is ancient woodland?

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By The Woodland Trust

Ancient woods have been around for many centuries – long enough to develop into ecosystems that are rich, complex and irreplaceable.

Officially it is woodland that has existed since 1600AD, but many are much older than this. Some may even link back to the original woodland that covered the UK around 10,000 years ago after the last Ice Age.

Ancient woodland now covers only around 2% of the UK. Much of what remains has been damaged by planting with non-native conifers or colonisation by invasive species.

Undisturbed ecosystems

By definition, ancient woodlands are areas which have had woodland cover for centuries and have been relatively undisturbed by human activity. Over hundreds of years, they have evolved into complex communities of trees, plants, fungi, microorganisms and insects.

They are woods that are present on maps dating back to 1600 in England and Wales and 1750 in Scotland. It’s presumed that if they’re present on maps of this age, they’re likely to be even older, perhaps even linking back to the prehistoric wildwood that once existed in the UK.

Each ancient wood is unique. It has its own local soil, environment, wildlife and cultural history. For this reason ancient woodland is irreplaceable.

Ancient woods can be historical treasure troves full of archaeological and cultural features that give an insight into past land use. They are part of the natural heritage that we all share.

Our ancient woods are in desperate need of protection. Once vast, they now cover just two per cent of the UK. Approximately half of what remains has been felled and replanted with non-native conifers and invasive species such as rhododendron. This can seriously damage their fragile ecosystems and smother the growth of delicate and rare woodland plants.

By working with landowners and partners across the UK, we aim to restore planted ancient woods through careful management. By securing and enhancing the surviving ancient remnants of a woodland, we can allow it to return to a more natural state and reawaken dormant glory. Together, we can help protect our ancient woodlands.

To find out more visit www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/restoration

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