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Ancient woodland around the UK

Ancient woodland encompasses many different native woodland types all over the UK. Find out how they vary depending on location, climate, management and ecology.

Over the centuries they have evolved into a complex array of ecological communities of interdependent trees, plants, fungi and insects that are rarely found in younger woods. Each wood has developed from a fixed point in time, according its local soils and environment, which together with the effects of past management over the centuries makes it unique.

The nature of ancient woodlands varies considerably throughout the country. Lowland woods in the agricultural landscape have often been enclosed, sometimes for many centuries. Many surviving woods mentioned in the Domesday Book have existed within the same boundaries for over a thousand years. Some nibbled away by periodic land improvement.

Upland woods on the other hand have always been mobile within the landscape. Comprised of mainly pioneer species like pine, birch and aspen they have continually reacted to changes in exploitation and grazing pressures and regenerated, grown, shrunk and moved slowly over the hills: their associated plant life moving with them.

Types of ancient woodland

To highlight this diversity, some of the characteristic woodland types include Atlantic hazelwoods and oakwoods along the western seaboard where the extreme oceanic climate produces woods dripping with mosses, lichens and epiphytes. They are the nearest thing we have to rainforests.

Pine and birch woods are linked in many people’s minds to the remnants of the once large Caledonian Forest in the north and west of Scotland. Ancient birch woods exist on many upland sites too. Many of these fragmented woodlands are under pressure from overgrazing from farm stock and deer preventing regeneration of the trees.

Upland ash woods strongly associated with limestone areas were once also full of elm along with other species like field maple and hazel before Dutch elm disease ravaged the woods of Britain. Now the remaining ash woods are threatened by the newly appeared ash dieback disease. These woods tend to be specially rich in plants and insects.

Lowland mixed woods and beech woods are the archetypal vision many people have of ancient woodland, often carpeted with wild flowers in the springtime, sometimes with a sea of bluebells or ransoms.