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What is broadleaf woodland?

Broadleaved woodland is characterised by trees which do not have needles. Their leaves are broad and vary in shape, and most of them are deciduous. They are best adapted to conditions in most of the UK, and the pattern of losing and gaining leaves allows for the woodland floor and understorey to be just as varied as the canopy.

Types of broadleaf woodland

Broadleaved woods differ, depending on location. The soil, altitude and any nearby water can influence the species that thrive there.
Woods with oak and birch can flourish in both highland and lowland environments. They are rich in wildlife as the oak alone supports huge numbers of invertebrates and the birds and mammals that, in turn, depend on them.

Broadleaf birch woodland in Glen Finglas

Credit: Laurie Campbell / WTML

Woods dominated by oak and birch occur on more acidic and infertile soils, often with plants like heather, bilberry and bracken. The UK contains very special oceanic examples of oak woodlands along the western coast which are internationally rare. They are known as temperate rainforests, and can also include pockets of oceanic ash woodland and rare Atlantic hazelwoods.

Native beech woods thrive in chalky soils in southern England and Wales, like those of the Chilterns and the Cotswolds. These woods, with their plentiful supply of useful timber, were often associated with human industry, such as furniture making. They support many rare and specialist plants, fungi and invertebrates.

Ash woodland grows in areas of limestone and other base-rich soils. These woods have lots of shrubby understorey growth, with species like spindle and dogwood under the light canopies of ash trees. These woods have rich and diverse ground flora. Many ‘ashwoods’ are actually quite mixed, with canopy species including other trees, such as lime, elm and hornbeam. Since the spread of ash dieback, these woods are under threat.

Many of these broadleaf woodlands can be wood-pasture; wet woodlands; montane scrub with willows and dwarf birch; as well as other semi-natural scrub habitats, such as coastal blackthorn and wooded limestone pavements.

Key features

No two broadleaf woodlands are the same. The geology and soil will impact the species present, and the age of a wood will greatly impact its character.

Broadleaf woodland wildlife

The species we associate with woods thrive in broadleaved woodland. From familiar mammals and rarely seen beetles, to favourite trees and freaky fungus, woods are home to diverse wildlife. Specialist species are associated with different broadleaved woodland types. These include lichens and mosses which love humid oak woodlands in the west, and rare orchids, fungi and money spiders which flourish in the shady leaf litter in native beechwoods.

Path leading through broadleaf woodland with ferns growing nearby

Credit: Rob Read / WTML

Threats

Broadleaved woodland is under threat from many sides. And the broadleaved tree species that dominate the woods are themselves under threat from pests and diseases. Some of these are already having an impact on our landscape. Find out more about pests and diseases.

These threats include development, urbanisation, air pollution and climate change. As our environment changes, trees are facing increasing stress to adapt to new and potentially unfavourable conditions, from drought to severe storms. Overgrazing from deer can also damage woods and stop woodland regeneration. Restoration of ancient broadleaved woodland is also urgent, and without restoration management, these woodlands will deteriorate further.