To classify as an ancient woodland site an area of woodland has to have been in existence 400 years ago ie around 1600. We know certain woods were inexistence back then because there are quite good records and maps from those times. Any woods that were not recorded back then may well have been planted subsequently or have regenerated as a result of areas like heathland developing into woodland due to reduction in grazing. This has happened in many areas after the decline of rabbits due to myxomatosis in the 1950’s.
It is quite likely that any woodland that existed around the reign of Elizabeth 1st will have been around for many years prior to that time and could well go back to the time when woodland developed after the last glacial period ie 12,000 years ago. This is because there was very little planting of woodland back then. The very first recorded replanting of woodland was down to Henry 8th who was responsible for the protection and planting of some of our larger woods. It is of course possible that some areas which had been cleared prior to 1600 had subsequently regenerated as populations moved and invasions occurred ie after Norman invasion or when the celts retreated in the wake of Anglo saxon expansion.
So ancient woodland is not precise but it is a good guide, another indicator is what is growing on the site because if a woodland has been in existence for thousands of years it will have more different species of plants than a woodland which is fairly young, ie less than 1000 years old. I will come onto the ‘indicator species for ancient woodland, in a subsequent blog.
Ancient woodlands are subdivided into two categories.
Ancient semi-natural woods are woods that developed naturally. They may have existed since woodland first colonised the British Isles after the last glaciation, but in many cases they have grown up on land that was previously cleared, but many hundreds of years ago. Most ancient woods are not untouched by man – they may have been managed for timber and other products over centuries (Coppice with Standard)– but they have always had woodland cover.
Plantations on Ancient Woodland Sites (normally abbreviated to PAWS) are ancient woods that were felled and planted with non-native trees, often conifers. This is what Ninewells wood is. Large areas of ancient woodland were replanted during the last century as part of the drive for the UK to become self-sufficient in timber after the world wars. The effects of felling, drainage and replanting, along with dense shade cast by closely planted conifers, threatens the survival of the fragile ancient woodland ecosystem. Ninewells wood has had at least two generations of coniferous trees on it and possibly more. The ordnance survey maps which I showed in an earlier blog indicates that there were some conifers growing as early as 1881.(click here to see the maps) This will mean that the degradation caused by the plantation will be more intense due to the long period of time since deciduous trees were the natural vegetation.
However the edge of the wood has retained some good Oak and Beech trees and there are still some indicator species hanging on in there. Careful, sensitive restoration can see the return of native species and recovery of the ancient woodland wildlife.
Now that my little patch of Ninewells wood (Catbrook wood) has had all the Corsican pine removed it is not a plantation any more and will not become one again. So is it now classified as an ancient semi-natural woodland once more.