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Wet woodland

Wet woodland is one of our least common woodland habitats and is rich in wildlife, combining elements of many habitats in one.

Alderwillow and birch are the dominating species of wet woodlands. They are well adapted to wet conditions as they can extract oxygen from the water-saturated soil.

Wet woods occur on soils that are often or seasonally wet, either because of flooding, or because of the land form and soil type. They occur along streams and rivers, on floodplains and at the edges of lakes, in peaty hollows, at the margins of fens, bogs and mires.

Wet birchwoods are the most common type in the west and north, on margins of bogs, valley mires. Downy birch is the species generally found here but willows, alder and silver birch may also be present.

Willow and alder often occur along rivers and streams, where they help to stabilise the banks. Many alder woods were coppiced in the past, with the wood prized for its water resistance, and used in clog making. Willow was also coppiced, and some species used extensively in basketry.

Wet woodland forms part of a mosaic of habitats. Often this type of habitat is transient, a stage in natural succession between open water and a drier woodland habitat.

Wildlife in wet woodland

Even though many are recent in origin, these woods are valuable for wildlife. High humidity supports growth of mosses and ferns. The combination of dead wood and wet conditions provides ecological niches that are not found in drier woods.

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. Willow scrub provides cover for birds such as marsh tit and willow tit. Birch and alder woods favour species such as siskin, redpoll and crossbill.

The wet ground conditions mean the flowering plants found in wet woods are the same as species as those found in fens and marshes. These include marsh marigold, meadowsweet, and yellow flag.