Neighbourhood nature
Neighbourhood nature

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Neighbourhood nature

1 Woodland

It is thought that, following the last glaciation (when most of the UK was covered in ice) and before humans began to have an influence on the vegetation of the UK, the country was covered in natural forests known as wildwood. Very little of this wildwood remains today, it having been cleared for fuel and to create space for agriculture. However, those woods that do remain are there because humans, through the ages, have managed and maintained them to exploit the woodland for timber, fuel and food. Every wood has a history of interaction between humans and nature that can be revealed by careful observation. Oak woodland is the most species-rich habitat in the UK, so woods are good places to see wildlife - even in well used woods within and near cities.

Activity 1

Timing: Allow 40 minutes for this activity

Task 1

Watch the following video clip and then answer the following question.

Download this video clip.Video player: Sherwood Forest
Skip transcript: Sherwood Forest

Transcript: Sherwood Forest

Sherwood Forest

Wendy Douglas
This is Sherwood Forest in Nottinghamshire, steeped in legends and mythology. Before we can work out how humans changed this landscape, I need to find out what it looked like when they first arrived and that is what botanist Steve Clifton is going to help me do.
Wendy
There's something really magical about it. How can I begin to tell how old it is?
Steve
One of the first things to do in a place like this is to look at the vegetation: the trees, the wildlife, in particular the insects. There's a host of rare insects here. So I think it's time that we went out and find a few.
Wendy
So you're telling me that I've got to look at the creepy crawlies then?
Steve
Yes, the creepy crawlies.
Wendy
Ok, let's go then.
Fortunately, we only needed to find one very particular species to give us clues about the age of everything around us.
Wendy
Steve, over here a minute, what's that?
Steve
Excellent, well I think what you've found there is a saproxylic beetle, a beetle that lives in rotting and decaying wood. Sherwood Forest is home to some of Britain's rarest beetles and this is probably one of them, and the reason that they are so rare is not only do they only live in this type of habitat, but they're very poor at dispersing to newer woodland. So not only does this tell me that this tree is very old but it also tells me that this whole woodland also has a long history to it too.
All these holes here have been made by a very impressive population of beetles and other insects. It certainly suggests to me that we could probably estimate this tree is centuries, if not many centuries years old.
Wendy
Amongst all of these trees is Sherwood Forest's major oak. It's more than just a tree, it's an English icon and it gives us real clues about the kind of landscape our ancestors needed to tame if they were going to turn this into more than just a woodland.
Steve
The fantastic thing about this tree is that it's probably our closest relative to the original trees of the wild wood, it's probably only ten generations removed from some of the very first trees that colonised this country after the ice age.
Wendy
So how do we go about giving it an age?
Steve
Well it's not easy, it's not an exact science but what we can do is a simple experiment just to measure the size of the trunk and we'll try and work out roughly how old the tree will be.
So if you want to take that and walk around the tree…
Wendy
Are you sure we've got enough tape for this?
Steve
Hopefully so.
Wendy
It just keeps going and going. Hello again!
So what we've got is 10 metres, that's huge.
Steve
That is a massive, massive tree. The general rule of thumb is that a tree that has a girth more than 5 metres is truly ancient, so this is double that figure.
Wendy
so 'double ancient'
Steve
We're probably looking at least a thousand years old.
Wendy
A thousand years old?
Steve
Yes, a thousand years old.
End transcript: Sherwood Forest
Sherwood Forest
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Task 2

How many different microhabitats did you notice in the clip?

Answer

The trees provide nesting, roosting and feeding places for birds. Open areas (glades and clearings) without trees are important for certain plants, butterflies and other insects. Dead wood provides habitat for invertebrates and fungi. Dead vegetation on the woodland floor is important for fungi (as shown in the clip) and invertebrates.

So woodland is a diverse habitat, rich in wildlife, that needs to be managed to maintain that richness.

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