Native lowland woodland
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Ancient semi-natural woods of mixed broadleaves are found across the lowlands of Britain. Dominated by mixtures of oak, ash and hazel, they were often managed as coppice until the early 20th century.
Coppicing is a form of woodland management. Trees are cut at ground level on a regular cycle, and allowed to re-grow to produce many new stems. This practice more or less died out as traditional markets for the products disappeared. This has led to changes in these woods. Especially to a decline in species dependent on the conditions that coppice management provides.
Local variations of this type of woodland exist. For example, hornbeam woods are common in Kent, Sussex and East Anglia. It is believed the bakers of London favoured hornbeam faggots for their ovens. Lime woods are found particularly in the Midlands and East Anglia.
These can contain a mix of different species, and some can tent to dominate. They include field maple, wych elm, wild cherry, alder, and shrubs such as hawthorn, spindle and dogwood. The wild service tree, a species strongly associated with ancient woodland, is occasionally found.
Other species are characteristic of ancient woodland in the lowlands. They include wood anemone, dog’s mercury, yellow deadnettle and wood sorrel as well as bluebells. Glorious displays of this native species bluebells make our ancient woods globally renowned.
On more acid soils, woods are dominated by oak or beech. In Kent, Sussex and Essex many woods are composed of sweet chestnut through centuries of management for timber.
Beechwoods are famously found in the Chilterns. They are also found in the North and South Downs, Cotswolds, the lower Wye Valley and south Wales. Beech trees shade out the understorey, so these woods have a feeling of openness. Together with the smooth, grey trunks, have a cathedral-like quality.
Beech can grow with ash, wild cherry, field maple, wych elm, oak and lime, and depending on soil type. Flowers grow here such as dog’s mercury, sanicle, sweet woodruff, bluebell, wood sorrel and wood spurge. Some beechwoods were coppiced in the past, but many were managed as wood pasture. Trees were pollarded (cut at head height) to prevent grazing animals from eating the regrowth. Magnificent ancient specimens still remain that were pollarded over centuries.
More woodland habitats
Find out more about the other types of woodland across the UK.