Have you ever walked through an ancient wood?
As part of my 2021 goals I wanted to learn more about the natural world. Join me on this journey as I select a topic each week.
On my morning sunrise walk earlier in the week I was listening to a podcast and the hosts were discussing a trail in the South of the UK which briefly walked through an ancient forest.
I assumed an ancient forest simply meant that it was really old, but then I started wondering “how old does a forest need to be before it is classed as ancient?”.
I returned home, flicked the kettle on to make a coffee and sat down to do some research. I asked my best mate, Google, and as it happens the world of ancient forests are really quite a find!
Ancient woods are areas of woodland that have persisted since 1600 in England and Wales, and 1750 in Scotland. This is when maps started to be reasonably accurate so we can tell that these areas have had tree cover for hundreds of years. They are relatively undisturbed by human development.
Google continues…. as a result, they are unique and complex communities of plants, fungi, insects and other microorganisms.
How to spot ancient woodland?
Many, but not all, ancient woodlands have been mapped, and each country in the UK maintains an ‘ancient woodland inventory’. Apparently, only 2.5% of the UK is ancient woodland. These inventories of maps provide details on which woods are considered to be ancient, as well as categorising that include ‘Plantations on Ancient Woodland Sites’, for example.
Ancient woods are varied, so different evidence can be required to identify them. We look for key species, known as ancient woodland indicators, which can give us clues to the age of a wooded area. Documentary evidence, such as map records, are very important, as well as looking out for historical features on the ground.
The nearest ancient wood to my home town is actually only 11.5 miles away in Plumpton Woods. Once lockdown is over, I may venture out to have a look around and soak up the atmosphere of an ancient wood!
Do you have an ancient wood near you? Have you ever visited an ancient wood?