Neighbourhood nature
Neighbourhood nature

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Neighbourhood nature

1.3 Woodland history

'Ancient woodland' is a term mentioned in the next video clip – 'Archer's Wood'. This section aims to give a quick woodland history and show how ancient woodland fits in.

Activity 2

Watch the video below.

Download this video clip.Video player: Archer's Wood
Skip transcript: Archer's Wood

Transcript: Archer's Wood

S159 Neighbourhood Nature DVD Transcript: Archer's Wood: aging woodland

Richard Daniel (presenter)
Jill Butler is an expert at discovering the age of some of our oldest landscape features of all, our woodland. So we met up near Cambridge, where I'm helping her find out how long Archer's Wood has been here.
Jill
Richard, hi! How are you getting on?
Richard
Not too badly, I've got lots of flowers.
Jill
Great.
Richard
Why the photography though?
Jill
Well, because some of the plants that you find in ancient woodland are really special and some of those can actually help us tell whether there has been woodland here for a very, very long time.
Richard
Have a look at what I've got (shows her camera).
Jill
This is bugle, it is a very nice woodland plant, but in fact it isn't actually one of those that can really convincingly tell us about how long the woodland has been here. Let's see what else you've got…
Richard
Let's fast forward a bit, and see what else we can find…
Jill
Greater stitchwort and veronica, there's lots of flowers here Richard.
Richard
Yes, I've gone for the flowers.
Jill
Ah bluebell, that's an interesting one, particularly in the East of England, that's telling us quite a lot about this woodland, it's pretty likely that this is an old woodland, it's the first one that you might see and think, ah this is a clue to the age of this particular woodland. Now that's dog's mercury and again in this part of England, Eastern England like the bluebell it's a lot stronger as an indicator of old woodland. But we haven't really found anything that's really convincing yet. I think we should go off and look at a different part of the woodland.
Richard
OK.
Jill
Now we're really getting into an interesting part of the woodland, this is pendulous sedge, this is a really strong indicator of an ancient woodland.
Richard
Jill told me that we needed to look for plants that take a long time to spread out and colonise new areas.
Jill
Ah this is great, well done! This is wild service tree; this is a really strong indicator of old woodland, its one of the strongest indicators. One of the reasons for that is, it tends not to seed in these woodlands, it tends to grow through throwing out suckers all the time. It has to have been here all the time.
Richard
This is a really good find, is there anything else in the wood that will give us an idea of its age?
Jill
Well there are other clues but they're to do with how the people have used the woodland over the centuries. So we can go and look for some of those.
Ah, here's some evidence that people have been working in the wood.
Richard
Why, what is it?
Jill
This is an old coppice; people would have cut it back to the stump on a regular basis using the materials for firewood or charcoal making or even in building and this could have been happening in this wood for thousands of years.
Richard
So Jill we've gathered all this evidence, how old do you think these woods are?
Jill
Well it's difficult to be 100% certain but it is possible there's been woodland here since just after the last ice age.
Richard
Wow.
End transcript: Archer's Wood
Archer's Wood
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).

After the last glaciation, woodland grew to cover much of the UK. This naturally established wood was known as wildwood, but since Neolithic times (between 6000 and 4000 years ago) it has been progressively influenced by the activities of humans – either through management or complete clearance for farming. By the time the Domesday Book was produced (1086), around only 15 per cent of England was wooded.

Figure 3 Some fungi commonly found in woodland: (a) the fly agaric fungus (Amanita muscaria), (b) fairy bonnets (Coprinus disseminatus) and (c) honey fungus (Armillaria mellea).
© Mike Dodd
Figure 3 Some fungi commonly found in woodland: (a) the fly agaric fungus (Amanita muscaria), (b) fairy bonnets (Coprinus disseminatus) and (c) honey fungus (Armillaria mellea).

Foresters tend to classify woodland based on its age, history and the types of trees found growing within it.

Primary woodland has existed continuously since the end of the last glaciation. Any surviving today is inevitably a tiny fragment of the original area.

Secondary woodland originated in areas that have at some time been unwooded, e.g. land used at some point in history for agriculture but was later allowed to revert to woodland. Virtually all land in the UK could eventually become woodland if left without interference from factors such as grazing, mowing or ploughing. You can probably think of examples of wasteland or uncultivated fields in your area where this process is starting to happen.

Plantations are areas of woodland where the trees have been deliberately planted. Non-native conifers – trees with needles that bear cones and are often evergreen, retaining a covering of leaves all year round, e.g. Norway spruce (Christmas tree) (Picea abies) – were popular choices during the twentieth century. Plantation woodlands were established primarily for timber production, often by the Forestry Commission, but may now have an important recreational role.

In the UK the term ancient woodland is used to mean land that has been continuously wooded since at least 1600. In practice, ancient woodland could be primary, secondary or even plantation, as long as it has been continuously wooded.

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