Woods are a vital part of the ecosystems that give us the essentials of life. Woods and forests really are amazing places, not only are they beautiful but they provide us with many benefits. Without them the world would be a very different place. Here are 11 key facts about woods and forests in the UK.
1. Woods and forests are cities for our wildlife
Our woods and trees are home to more wildlife than any other landscape. The UK's woodland has some of our richest habitats providing homes for thousands of species including many of our mammals, birds, reptiles and invertebrates. Woods, and more specifically the trees within them, provide shelter, food and safe places to hide and breed.
2. Trees in forests communicate with each other through a fungal network or ‘wood wide web’
Fungi have fine threads that spread underground called mycelium. Trees use mycelium like an underground internet to link with other trees and plants. They use these networks to communicate, such as to warn each other of danger. They also use them to share nutrients, older trees will pass nutrients to their offspring that are growing nearby. These partnerships are called ‘mycorrhiza’.
3. Not all rainforests are tropical, we actually have rainforests in the UK
The UK is home to a few small pockets of rainforest. They are temperate deciduous forests with a constantly moist environment that encourages growth of mosses and ferns.
4. Woods in the UK are structured with four layers: canopy, understory, herb layer and ground layer
The canopy is made up of the leaves and branches of the tallest trees. The understory or shrub layer is the vegetation below the canopy from smaller trees or shrubs, such as hawthorn, that grow in low light. The herb (or field) layer comes next, plants that grow here depend on how open the canopy is and often need gaps of light to grow. The ground layer is the forest floor filled with mosses, fungi, leaf litter and decaying wood.
5. Galloway Forest in Scotland is the UK’s largest forest at 297 square miles
The next largest is England’s Kielder Forest in Northumberland which is 235 square miles.
6. Around 13% of the UK is covered in woods and forests
The UK is the second least wooded country in Europe after Ireland. In comparison Europe’s average tree cover is 44%. Not enough trees are being planted in the UK meaning we could soon be in a period of deforestation. This is why the Woodland Trust works to create new woodland and connect existing woods by planting native trees.
7. Just 2% of the UK’s land mass is covered in ancient woodland
Ancient woodland is defined as areas that have been continuously wooded since 1600 in England and Wales, and 1750 in Scotland. It’s not the trees but the soils that give them this name. The soils have been preserved from human interference for centuries. This has resulted in the development of complex ecosystems that make ancient woods unique and irreplaceable. The Trust is working hard to protect these habitats before they all disappear.
8. The UK’s woods are home to almost half of all bluebells in the world
The UK is famous for its stunning bluebell carpets that bloom in our ancient woods from April to May. They are a slow spreading bulb flower with each bulb potentially living for years. New flowers bloom from the existing bulbs every year. But they face many threats from trampling, habitat loss, competition and hybridisation with Spanish bluebells, and from people picking them or digging up the bulbs (this is illegal).
9. The Woodland Trust owns over 1,100 woods across the UK which are all free to visit
We believe everyone should be able to access woods near them for free. We also buy woods to safeguard and restore them, where we can. We take on sites with existing or ancient woodland or create new woods by planting. Some of our popular sites have both, such as Heartwood Forest in Hertfordshire.
10. Last year, on the 800th anniversary of the Charter of the Forests, a new contemporary Charter for Trees, Woods and People was launched for the UK
Over 70 organisations, local groups and thousands of people worked together to create a Tree Charter that will guide policy and practice in the UK. It is made up of 10 principles that illustrate how we should use, value, protect and celebrate woods and trees. Over 130,000 people have shown their support by signing the Charter.
11. Spending time in woods and forests, or even just around trees, is proven to boost our health and wellbeing
Lots of research provides evidence that woods benefit our health. Studies have shown that patients with views of trees out their windows heal faster and with fewer complications. Children with ADHD show fewer symptoms when they have access to nature. Being near trees helps our concentration by reducing mental fatigue. One study discovered that a forest stroll had beneficial effects on blood pressure, heart rate and the immune system.
Discover woods and forests for yourself
We hope you enjoyed learning some interesting facts about woods and forests in the UK. Why not go and discover the wonder of woods and forests first-hand with your family or friends? We offer lots of activities to get you started as part of our family membership.