Why is Ancient Woodland in the UK so important?
What is Ancient Woodland?
Ancient woods are areas of woodland that have persisted since 1600 in England and Wales, and 1750 in Scotland. This is when maps started to be reasonably accurate so we can tell that these areas have had tree cover for hundreds of years. They are relatively undisturbed by human development. As a result, they are unique and complex communities of plants, fungi, insects and other microorganisms.
Ancient woodland has been around for so long it has developed special communities of plants and animals not found elsewhere. It’s an important habitat and in dire need of protection.
How do you know if you are in ancient woodland?
Various species can be used to give an indication that a site has been continuously wooded for a long time. There are, what is known as, ancient woodland indicator plants and these vary across the UK. Some to look out for would be: Bluebells, Wood Anemones, Primroses, Lily of the Valley, Wild Garlic, Red Campion & Spindle. Most significantly Butcher's Broom & Herb Paris as it is unlikely these could have been introduced as they only grow from seed.
If you are lucky enough to come across the Violet Click Beetle or the Lemon Slug then you can be pretty sure you are amidst this ancient and magical place.
According to Jason Adams of the Environment Agency and RainbowLife's newly appointed Biodiversity & Ecology advisor (BEA)... 'any woodland area where there is a wide selection of plants growing is likely to be an indicator of ancient woodland'.
I have discovered that being surrounded by ancient woodland is one of the best places to practise mindfulness or meditation. It is a place of rare beauty and peace where the magic cannot help but enchant you. I am intrigued by the concept of Forest Bathing. Has anyone tried this?
What is special about Ancient woodland?
In the UK ancient woods are our richest and most complex terrestrial habitats and they are home to more threatened species than any other. Centuries of undisturbed soils and accumulated decaying wood have created the perfect place for communities of fungi and invertebrates. Other specialist species of insects, birds and mammals rely on ancient woodlands.
Ancient woods are irreplaceable. We can’t replace the complex biodiversity of ancient woods which has accumulated over hundreds of years. Many species that thrive in ancient woodland are slow to colonise new areas.
Ancient woodland has grown and adapted with native wildlife, yet what remains only covers 2.5% of the UK.
Once what little we have left is gone, it’s gone for good.
So, let's preserve what we have as these places seem like very important places.
What can be done?
Almost 40% of the UK’s ancient woodland has been replanted with dense non-native trees, causing deep shade across the woodland floor. Non-native plants like rhododendron, Himalayan Balsam and Snowberry are also encroaching into our woodlands competing with native plants.
Through restoration, we can stop the damage, encourage these habitats to recover and reverse years of decline.
Restoration is the careful process of removing these threats. This enables natural regeneration of native trees and plants, and helps wildlife to thrive. Managed well, restoration can bring ancient woodland back from the brink and provide other benefits, such as income from timber.
The Woodland Trust is the UKs leading organisation dedicated to woodland preservation & restoration...
'We are at the forefront of championing restoration throughout the UK. As well as restoring our own sites, we are working with landowners and managers to restore privately-owned ancient woodland. Together, we’ve committed more than 34,000 hectares of damaged woodlands back into a process of recovery.'
At RainbowLife we are demonstrating our commitment to helping preserve ancient woodland- in May 2022 we are donating 5% of all sales to the Woodland Trust.
This is the month when you will see the magic carpets of bluebells in ancient woodland.
If you want to get more closely involved in the work of The Woodland Trust then you may want to look into volunteering with them, they run all sorts of projects. There are plenty of conservation organisations out there so have a look around. The wellbeing benefits cannot be underestimated- getting outdoors and meeting people with a common interest under the skies in unique environments!
In Kent, where I live, we have Kent Wildlife Trust which runs some amazing projects.
Jason Adams' Top 4 Tips for countryside visiting:
1. Leave no footprint
2. Stick to the paths
3. Don't pick or dig up anything
4. Definitely don't introduce anything!
And my tip would be: Go see the wonder but tread carefully as there may be a Violet Click Beetle crossing your path!