Upland woods

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Western Oakwood in Wales

Fern and moss covered oak at Coed Hafod y Llyn, Snowdonia, Wales. (Photo: Rory Francis/WTML)

Magical native oakwoods are found in upland areas of the north and west. Here lush ferns, mosses, liverworts and lichens flourish in damp gullies and gorges.

Sessile oak dominates these upland woods, but they are also home to birch, hazel, rowan, holly and hawthorn. Species such as crab apple, aspen, bird cherry and alder occur in smaller numbers.

Despite their fairy glen appearance, many of these are coppice woods, shaped by people over centuries. Oak wood made charcoal for smelting iron, and bark for tanning. Birds such as pied flycatcher, wood warbler, and tree pipit are typical of open oakwoods.

Ash and oak in upland woods

Upland oakwoods are characteristic of acid soils, while ash dominates limestone areas. The Pennines, Peak District, North York Moors, and the Mendips have areas of ash woodland. Colourful carpets of wildflowers put on fantastic displays in these woods. Particularly, bluebell, primrose, wood cranesbill, lily of the valley and Solomon’s Seal. Rarer species, such as the dark red helleborine, also thrive here.

Ash grows in a mix with other trees such as small-leaved lime, wild cherry, wych elm, and hazel. The alkaline bark of ash supports a variety of lichens. These include rare lichens from the Lobarion community, typical of ancient woodland.

Upland birch woods

Exposed upland areas, where soils are too infertile for oak or ash to dominate, are often populated by birch. They are particularly found in Scotland where, in the cool north-west, they are low growing and scrubby.

Bilberry, cow wheat, wood sorrel and tormentil are all heath plants that grow on the ground layer of these acid soils. Mosses and liverworts occur in profusion, some of them rare.

Atlantic hazelwoods

Along western coasts, especially in Scotland, you will find ancient Atlantic hazelwoods. Centuries of low disturbance has led to rich communities of lichens, mosses and fungi developing. They thrive in the mild, damp climate.

Rare specialities include the white script lichen and hazel gloves fungus. Old stems of hazel host lichens of the rare and declining Lobarion community. These are species from the genus Lobaria and are some of the world's most spectacular and attractive lichens.


In mountainous areas, forest cover changes with altitude. From wooded valley bottoms, to species such as rowan, juniper and willows, and up to montane scrub. Here the trees are often small, gnarled and twisted. They cling on at the upper limit of their range. Some species, such as dwarf juniper, birch, and montane willows, grow with a low or prostrate habit.

Due to grazing and browsing, this transition habitat is now our rarest type of native woodland. Some of the trees, such as woolly willow, are scarce, along with plants such as alpine sow thistle and globeflower. Today, these are only found on inaccessible rock ledges. There are specialised invertebrates found on the willows and juniper.

Native pinewoods

The native pinewoods of the Scottish highlands are a distinctive habitat. They form a link to the vast boreal forests that encircle the globe. Although not particularly diverse, they support characteristic species found nowhere else.

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