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A few centuries ago, the landscape of Penn Wood was quite different to the one we see today.
The trees were much more spread out and grassland grew between the trees. Local people allowed their livestock to feed on the grass. This type of habitat is called a ‘wooded pasture’.
Around 150 years ago, everything changed (see History ). Local people and their livestock were forced from the land and trees (conifers, beeches and oaks) were planted in between the older trees of the wooded pasture. Ornamental shrubs such as rhododendron were also planted along the paths of the forest.
The trees that were planted on the ancient pasture have now grown to fill in the gaps between the older trees. Some of the trees planted were non-native conifers. For this reason, Penn Wood is known as a Planted Ancient Woodland Site (PAWS). PAWS are a focus for The Woodland Trust’s conservation efforts.
Why restore Penn Wood’s ancient woodland?
Majestic veteran trees help to support the rich biodiversity found in wooded pasture habitat. Veterans are especially common in wooded pasture – the widely spaced trees typical of wooded pastures can reach very old ages and become veterans. In crowded forests though, competition from neighbouring trees means that ageing trees die before becoming veterans.
Helping veteran trees to survive is one good reason to restore Penn’s wooded pasture: decaying wood of veteran trees supports rare fungi, lichen and invertebrates, and bats and birds nest in the hollows of old trees.
The trees that were planted on the wooded pasture more than a century ago have now grown into a forest. In many places, veteran trees are surrounded and the pastures are gone.
There are remnants of the ancient pastures, especially in southern parts of the wood: grasslands with rare plant species grow alongside familiar grassland flora such as heather. However, brambles, bracken, shrubs and young trees are spreading into the remaining open grassland areas and without conservation this habitat will be lost. If larger areas of wooded pasture were restored, this could benefit birds such as nightjars and woodlarks which prefer open woodland areas.
Some of the trees that were planted on the wooded pastures were non-native conifers. These can be especially harmful to biodiversity. This is because the non-native conifer trees support less biodiversity than native trees:
- Fewer insect species are able to live and feed on the conifers. This is because insects need to adapt to new food sources and have not yet had time to do this in the case of recently introduced conifer species.
- The deep shade cast by densely planted conifers can suffocate wildflowers living on the forest floor.
How is the Woodland Trust restoring Penn Wood?
Areas with remains of grassland are being restored to wooded pasture – after restoration about a quarter of Penn will be wooded pasture, Strangely enough, cows are playing an important role in restoring the woods. Over a dozen cows wander through the wood during the winter months - by grazing and trampling the thickets and fertilizing the ground, they encourage the grasslands to return.
Throughout Penn Wood, non-native conifer trees are gradually being removed. In heavily forested areas, it will not be possible to restore pastures; instead, conifer removal will create native broadleaved woodland, and trees growing next to veteran trees will be removed to give the veterans space to grow.
For more information about the campaign to save and restore Penn Wood as well as general visitor information, please download our brochure (PDF, 3.5MB)