How to iden­tify an an­cient wood­land

An­cient wood­lands are ar­eas that have had wood­land cover for cen­turies and have been rel­a­tively undis­turbed by hu­man ac­tiv­ity.

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1 DE­TER­MINE THE TYPE An­cient wood­land has de­vel­oped nat­u­rally – it is com­posed of na­tive trees and shrubs, though it may have been pre­vi­ously man­aged. Plan­ta­tions are woods that were felled and planted with non-na­tive trees after the world wars.

2 RECOG­NISE IN­DI­CA­TOR SPECIES Over hun­dreds of years, an­cient wood­lands have evolved into com­plex com­mu­ni­ties of trees, plants, fungi, micro­organ­isms and in­sects. Species to look out for in­clude herb-paris, black hairstreak but­ter­fly and tree lung­wort.

3 STUDY TREES CARE­FULLY An­cient trees have lots of hol­lows, niches and dead­wood to sup­port other species. They are in the third and fi­nal stage of their life (a process of de­cline and de­cay), have a wide trunk and can have a small canopy as they shrink with age. 4 LOOK FOR HIS­TOR­I­CAL FEA­TURES There may be ar­chae­o­log­i­cal relics of tra­di­tional wood­land man­age­ment, such as char­coal hearths and kilns, plat­forms for pro­cess­ing and stor­age, and cop­pice stools with many new shoots.

5 READ OLD MAPS Wood­land that has ex­isted since 1600 in Eng­land and Wales and 1750 in Scot­land is an­cient wood­land. These dates are used to de­ter­mine the status and maps from this pe­riod can be re­lied upon to con­firm their pres­ence with rea­son­able ac­cu­racy.

6 CHECK OUT THE LAND­SCAPE Banks and ditches are a sign of an old par­ish, deer park or were used to keep an­i­mals out. They are of­ten marked by over­grown hedges and an­cient trees can de­fine the bound­ary. An­cient wood­lands are also likely to be in ar­eas that are un­suit­able for agri­cul­ture.

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