What is wet woodland?

Wet woods occur on soils that are often or seasonally wet, either because of flooding, or because of the land form and soil type. Find them along streams and rivers; on floodplains and at the edges of lakes; in peaty hollows; and at the margins of fens, bogs and mires. These woodland types can occur as small pockets within larger, drier woodlands.

Birch growing in wet woodland with purple moor grass growing and loch in background

Credit: Alastair Hotchkiss / WTML

Types of wet woodland

There are different types of wet woodland. This is mainly because of variation in how wet the soil is, and also variation in different parts of the UK. These are often known as ‘carr’. The wettest woodland types include carr dominated by willows and birch. Some distinctive types include grey willow carr on fen peats in places such as East Anglia and the meres of Shropshire and Cheshire.

Waterlogged woodland with Alder growing above water and reflected

Credit: Jean Williamson / Alamy Stock Photo

Bay willow and bottle sedge carr is a distinctive wet woodland of Northern England and Scotland, and typically on flushed, peaty soils in the hills. North-western examples of all wet woodland types may support eared willow instead of grey willow. Downy birch and purple moor-grass woods occur on wet, moderately acidic soils, and while they occur throughout the UK, they are frequent in upland areas of Scotland. Alder-carr woodlands are scattered throughout the UK, and some types grade into drier woodlands, with ash also occurring. Some native Scots pine forest can also occur as stunted bog woodland.

Key features

Wet woodland is characterised by a few water-loving tree species.

Wildlife

Some wet woodlands can be ancient, while others can be more recent in origin. Both are often very valuable for wildlife. Ancient sites support species like remote sedge, opposite-leaved golden-saxifrage, wood horsetail and yellow pimpernel. Wet woodlands include marsh marigold, meadowsweet, yellow flag, bittersweet nightshade, and wild redcurrant and blackcurrant bushes. High humidity supports the growth of mosses and ferns.

Common frog perched on a damp log with ferns in the background

Credit: Phillip Jones / Alamy Stock Photo

The combination of dead wood and damp conditions provides other ecological benefits. Rare insects can be associated water-saturated, decaying wood. Willow tits nest in rotting birch trees in wet woodland. Willow scrub provides cover for birds such as marsh tit and willow tit. Birch and alder woods often favour species like siskin, redpoll and crossbill. Willow supports more species of moths and other insects than any other British tree, except oak. Wet woods also provide cover for mammals such as otter, and support several bat species. Amphibians often flock to woodland ponds, as do their reptile predators!

Explore wet woodland

You’ll find wet woodlands in damp places and areas of water, such as marshes, riversides and lakesides across the UK. Look out for characteristic wet birchwoods in the west and north of the UK, on margins of bogs and valley mires.

Algae covered water logged woodland with trees growing out of water and wooden walkway

Credit: Ben Lee / WTML

Threats

Many ancient wet woodlands have been lost. Sometimes on fertile land, these have been drained and converted to agriculture. Floodplain woodlands were once dominant along the rivers of Britain, but are now almost completely gone.

Current threats to wet woodland include continued clearance and drainage. Wet woods are also susceptible to pollution incidents, especially from agricultural run-off.

What we’re doing about it

We protect all wet woodlands occurring in our woods. We are restoring ancient woodlands which contain wet woodlands, both within our woods, and through our work with other landowners. Woodland creation and tree planting often occurs along riparian areas (beside watercourses).