Trees and plants in Penn and Common Woods

Beech leaves (Photo: Deborah Morris/WTML)

Penn is an ‘old growth’ woodland (woodland with trees exceeding 200 years in age with a continuity of old trees reaching into the past). There are at least 50 of these old growth trees (mainly beech) on the site and they date back to when Penn was common land, prior to its enclosure in 1855. The majority of the old trees are along the northern edge of the wood.

Currently, approximately 40% of the site is conifer-dominated woodland, with another 40% semi-natural and largely composed of broadleaved trees. The other 20% is open grassland with widely spaced trees and scrub.

Shortly after the site’s enclosure, some of the main rides were made more formal with the planting of exotic flowering shrubs and specimen conifer trees such as Douglas fir and Austrian pine (the conifers now being of impressive size). Among the shrubs, rhododendron ponticum was planted and would have also been the rootstock for other rhododendron varieties.

In the northern half of the site the open woodland exists largely as glades between the plantations. Here the grassland is very rich and diverse and contains 20 plant species which are uncommon in the county. As well as numerous species of grass, sedge and rush the grassland also contains flora such as heath bedstraw and patches of heather (also known as ling). Within these more open areas of woodland there are also occasional old growth trees and widely spaced mature oaks and beeches, dating from early plantations in the 19th century.

Historically this open habitat would have been managed through commoners grazing their animals and removing some tree growth for fuel.  Grazing now takes place for most of the year by over a dozen Dexter cows and was re-introduced by the Woodland Trust on the southernmost two-thirds of the site to help manage and maintain a wood pasture habitat.  These cows are playing an important role in restoring the woods by grazing and trampling some of the trees and scrub to encourage the species rich grasslands to return.

Drifts of bluebell can be found beneath the stands of trees, most notably on the west side, together with other species such as wood spurge. The land slopes in the far south of the site and here the soil becomes more calcareous (chalky) resulting in a richer flora, with species such as sanicle, primrose, woodruff and black bryony.

Recorded fungi include a parasol and grey mushroom, and birch bracket polypore.