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Woodland biodiversity:

Expanding our horizons


Introduction 3

Key features of woodland biodiversity 4

Ancient woodland 5

Old growth 7

Size 8

Core Area 10

Woodland adjacent to semi-natural habitats 12

Density of semi-natural habitats 13

Linkage of open ground habitats 14

Measures of woodland biodiversity potential 16

Corresponding strategies for improving biodiversity 17

Developing our plans and focusing our action 19

References 21
Photo: Richard Smithers


In Keeping woodland alive - the Woodland Trust's biodiversity and the relative merits of possible
Plan for Action, we set out the contemporary future activities relevant to:
challenges facing woodland in the UK and  All habitats and species.
identify priorities to guide our work over the  Existing habitats and habitat
coming years, including our wish to see the creation.
biodiversity of woods improved and restored.  Landscapes and individual sites.
But what does this mean and how are we
We are not alone in seeking a pragmatic
going to measure success?
solution. For example, the Joint Nature
In Seeing the woods for the trees - the Woodland Conservation Committee is co-ordinating
Trust's approach to conservation, we state that development of condition monitoring for SSSIs
we value all forms of life yet acknowledge that (for woodlands, see Kirby 1999).
with so many species alive today our
As a first step we have identified those site
knowledge of the natural world will always be
features which are major determinants of value
limited.We also recognise that species evolve
to woodland biodiversity.We have then sought
in response to change. Monitoring total
to encompass them in the development of
species abundance as a means of assessing
what we believe to be a series of simple yet
improvements in woodland biodiversity is,
meaningful measures.These are intended to
therefore, impractical and to focus on any one
direct broad action, they are not designed to
species or group of species as a measure of
answer all questions and there will still be a
overall biodiversity is likely to be misleading
need to consider specifics and practicalities
(Simberloff 1998, Harvey 1999).
in reaching decisions, particularly at
What is needed is a cost-effective means a site level.
of measuring improvements in woodland

Key features for woodland biodiversity
An “island” wood
Photo: Woodland Trust picture library

Increasingly intensive land use has led to massive

loss of semi-natural habitats.Those that survive are
becoming ever more isolated and effectively
operate as islands. For example, 8 out of 10 woods
on the Ancient Woodland Inventory in England and
Wales are less than 20ha (Spencer & Kirby 1992).
As a result, like other people (Diamond 1975; Kirby
1995, Peterken, Baldock & Hampson 1995; Ratcliffe,
Peterken & Hampson 1998), we have turned to
principles of island biogeographic theory (MacArthur
& Wilson 1967) and landscape ecology (Forman &
Godron 1986) to inform our thinking.With these in
mind we have identified the following features as
having greatest influence over the contribution sites
make to woodland biodiversity:

 Ancient Woodland
 Old Growth
 Core Area
 Woodland edge adjacent to other
semi-natural habitats
 Density of semi-natural habitats
 Linkage of open ground habitats
The attributes of each of these key features is
considered in detail:

Wild Service-tree; a strong indicator of ancient woodland
Photo: Richard Smithers

Ancient woodland for any other habitat. (Biodiversity:The UK Semi-Natural Woodland and plantations
Steering Group 1995). on Ancient Woodland Sites. Semi-natural
Ancient woodland is irreplaceable, having
stands in ancient woods are defined as
taken many centuries to evolve. It has In England and Wales, ancient woods are
those consisting predominantly of native
been suggested that extinction prone defined as those where there has been
trees and shrubs that have not obviously
species include most of those of original, continuous woodland cover since at least
been planted but have arisen from natural
natural conditions and that they are now 1600 AD (Spencer & Kirby 1992). Before
regeneration or coppice regrowth.
found mainly in stable habitats (Terborgh this planting was uncommon, so a wood
Plantations on Ancient Woodland Sites
1974). If this is the case extinction prone present in 1600 AD was likely to have
may be coniferous, broadleaved or mixed
species are more likely to occur in developed naturally. In Scotland, ancient
(Spencer & Kirby 1992).
woodland than in any other habitat in the woods are defined strictly as sites shown

UK and particularly in ancient woodland, as semi-natural woodland on the ‘Roy’ Many species with poor powers of

which is the most stable woodland type maps (a military survey carried out in dispersal have now been identified as
(Peterken, 1993). This assumption is 1750 AD, which is the best source of characteristic of ancient woodland. Some
supported by the UK Biodiversity Action historical map evidence) and as woodland occur in almost no other habitat,
Plan, which identifies that broadleaved on all subsequent maps (Scottish Natural particularly epiphytic lichens (Rose 1976,
woodland supports almost twice as many Heritage 1997). However, they have been Rose 1992, Hodgetts 1992), saproxylic
species of conservation concern as any combined with long-established woods of beetles (Harding & Rose 1986) and
other habitat, e.g. more than twice as semi-natural origin (originating from woodland flies (Marren 1990). A significant
between 1750 and 1860) into a single number of vascular plants are associated
many as chalk grassland and almost three
category of ancient woodland to take with ancient woodland to a lesser or
times as many as lowland heathland. It has
account of uncertainties in compilation of
78 globally threatened and rapidly greater degree (Peterken 1974, Peterken &
the inventory.
declining species, and 46 species have been Game 1984, Rose 1999, Peterken 2000), as
lost in the last 100 years, both higher than Ancient woods include Ancient are some mosses and liverworts

Key features for woodland biodiversity (continued)
Different epiphytic lichens act as ancient woodland indicators in different
parts of the UK
Photo: Richard Smithers

(Ratcliffe 1968, Hodgetts 1992), slugs and has less bearing on the value of woods to
snails (Boycott 1934), spiders, larger moths biodiversity as one travels north and
and butterflies (Marren 1990). The west. It is undoubtedly true that some
presence of various other species, vascular plants indicative of ancient
including the dormouse (Bright 1996), can woodland in lowland England are not so
also be correlated more weakly with restricted in the uplands. However, in
ancient woodland. In addition there are other parts of the European north
suggestions that some fungi may be temperate zone as much as a third of the
specific to ancient woodland (Peterken, flora has been shown to have limited
Baldock & Hampson 1995, Hodgetts 1996). powers of dispersal and tends to be found
mainly in ancient woods. Despite a lack of
While plantations on Ancient Woodland
detailed studies, it therefore seems
Sites include stands planted so closely
improbable that upland Britain will be
that any semi-natural understorey is
wholly different and likely that a significant
suppressed, these woods often continue
minority of vascular plants will be
to support some species characteristic of
restricted to ancient woodland (Peterken,
ancient woodland, particularly along rides,
Baldock & Hampson 1995). Study of the
ride margins and in glades as well as
distributions of epiphytic lichens has also
dormant within the seed bank (Radford
shown that different ones can act as
ancient woodland indicators in different
It has been suggested that many
parts of the UK (Hodgetts 1992) and the
woodland species have a wider ecological
same may be true of other groups, which
amplitude in the uplands (Peterken 1996)
as yet have been studied less intensively.
and that the concept of ancient woodland

The UK may be home to most of Europe’s ancient trees
Photo: G.L.Jones

Devil’s Bolete - a fungus associated with ancient trees
Photo: Martyn Ainsworth

Old growth plane trees of the Mediterranean region small proportion of trees or deadwood at
(Green 1991). any one time.
The term old growth is widely used
elsewhere around the world, particularly A substantial number of specialist An important feature of lichens restricted
in North America. Definitions are woodland species are almost wholly to old growth is that they are not usually
generally imprecise and refer to the confined to old growth stands, notably confined to the oldest trees, although the
number of trees over a certain size and many saproxylic beetles and epiphytes e.g. presence of veteran trees is usually the
the amount of standing and fallen more than 70 lichens (Rose 1992). Most of feature most strongly associated with
deadwood (Peterken 1996). In the UK old these species are rare, declining and have lichen-rich stands (Gustafsson et al 1992).
growth has tended to be synonymous disjunct distributions (e.g. violet click Old trees are, therefore, an indicator of
with the idea of virgin forest. As it is beetle), which have been interpreted as the continuity required by lichens which
assumed that no woodland has escaped relict populations of species dependant on will colonise trees a lot younger than the
people's intervention and that the dead wood or veteran trees in the original age of the stand.The same may be true of
Wildwood had disappeared from England Wildwood and which have survived only invertebrates and fungi associated with
when the Domesday book was produced where these habitats have been old growth.
in 1086 (Rackham 1990), greater focus has continuously present. As a result these When old growth is clear felled all but the
been given to ancient woodland. A small species are particularly characteristic of most specialist lichens may return after
proportion of ancient woods, however, ancient wood-pastures (Harding & Rose stands reach 200-300 years old where
retain old growth characteristics. In a UK 1986) and it would appear that they have nearby old growth survives (Gustafsson et
context old growth has been defined as almost no ability to colonise new sites. al 1992, Rose 1992). If scattered veteran
'stands with more than 200 years' growth' However, the requirements of individual trees are retained and woodland is
(Peterken 1996) with a continuity of old saproxylic invertebrates are known to be allowed to regenerate lichens re-colonise
trees reaching back into the past (Rose very specific (Warren & Key 1991), as are much quicker but their recovery is
1992). Indeed it is estimated by some that those of epiphytes (Rose 1976), implying a seriously compromised if the nearest old
the UK may be home to most of Europe's certain degree of mobility within woods growth stand is more than 2.5km away
ancient trees, excepting the olive and as suitable habitats are only provided by a (Sanderson 1998).

Key features for woodland biodiversity (continued)

Size matters!
Photo: Niall Benvie

Size sustain itself independently without

intervention. Each species has its own
As the size of islands increases so does
peculiar requirements so MDA varies
the number of species that they support.
between species.The MDA for most
On average a ten-fold increase in size
species in the UK is unknown but some
leads to a doubling of species number
area requirements in relation to woodland
(MacArthur & Wilson 1967). With
species have been estimated:
increasingly intensive agriculture and
habitat fragmentation, woods in the UK Capercaillie need 500ha of open pine
operate as island habitats and their habitat (Ratcliffe 1999). Pine marten need
species number has been shown to 230ha of continuous woodland for a pair
increase with size in the same way (Game to establish a breeding territory (Balharry
& Peterken 1984). Also related to size is 1993). Dormouse need woods exceeding
the concept of minimum dynamic area, 50ha to sustain healthy populations (Bright
MDA, (Pickett & Thomson 1978). The MDA 1996). In a lowland arable landscape in
is "the smallest area with a natural eastern England it has been found that for
disturbance regime, which maintains all but the commonest woodland birds,
internal recolonisation sources and hence the probabilities of breeding do not
minimises extinction" i.e. the smallest area approach 100 per cent until woodland
required for a species or habitat to size reaches about 10ha or more, such as

Dormouse need woods exceeding 50ha to sustain healthy populations
Photo: Kenneth Watkins OBE

about 25ha for marsh tits, and nuthatches expected from consideration of their
are rarely encountered even in woods of abundance or biomass. For example,
100ha or more (Hinsley et al 1994). ectomycorrhizal fungi associated with the
However, the idea of a minimum area roots of trees are extremely efficient in
requirement may be misleading as the obtaining minerals from soils within which
simple presence of a species does not non-mycorrhizal roots would grow very
necessarily indicate a viable population. poorly (Cooke 1977) and as such are
The concept of a minimum viable keystone species. It follows that given we
population (Shaffer 1981; Gilpin & Soule know so little about so many species any
1986; Soule 1987) is more useful, especially increase in area is likely to accommodate
for species with poor dispersal abilities in the MDA of more species and thereby
a fragmented landscape where the arrival give greater chance of achieving the MDA
of immigrants may be infrequent. of the habitat as a whole.

It seems reasonable to suppose that the

MDA of a habitat may in part be defined
by the area requirements of its keystone
species (Simberloff 1998). These are
defined as species that have impacts on
others far beyond what might be

Key features for woodland biodiversity (continued)

Penetrative edge effects from intensive land use are of greatest concern
Photo: David Lund

Core Area to an increase in the habitat edge to area application (Cooke 1993).
ratio. Consequently, plant and animal
Although size is important, potential The Core Area of a woodland cannot
populations are not only sub-divided,
confusion arises because it has also been simply be defined by its woodland edge
they are increasingly exposed to
shown that given the same total area the to area ratio. It is also a product of its
environmental impacts from outside the
species abundance of woodland herbs shape, size, and distance to which edge
site.These may take many forms.
increases with the number of separate effects penetrate. If a wood's total area
Increasing wind speed, air temperature
individual woods (Game & Peterken 1984, and length of woodland edge are known
and loss of humidity (McCollin 1998)
Peterken & Francis 1999). This is due to then a shape index (Paton 1975) can be
typify microclimate gradients. In the UK
the probability of different sites having calculated, describing its deviation from a
environmental impacts associated with
different soils supporting different plant circle, and together with an estimate of
intensive land use are undoubtedly of
communities. Nevertheless, larger areas the distance to which edge effects
greatest concern e.g. pollution and
contribute more to biodiversity, as this penetrate can be used to determine the
pesticide drift.There is no significant
finding does not take account of the Core Area (Laurance & Yensen 1991).
reduction in drift of pesticides into
needs of other groups of organisms Figure 1 shows two woods of equal size
woodland as compared with open arable
which rely on larger areas of woodland, with markedly different Core Areas.
landscapes (Davis et al 1993). Serious
or the potential for future extinction. acute effects on plants, fungi and Use of the Core Area model has focused
The concept of Core Area (Laurance & invertebrates occur at least 10 metres on tropical forest fragments. For
Yensen 1991 & Laurance 1991) is away and can occur at a distance of example, it has been used in
particularly helpful to understanding the more than 100 metres dependant on the northeastern Queensland to
latter point. Habitat fragmentation leads chemical being used and the method of demonstrate the minimum size of forest

Below top:
Figure 1 Two woods of equal size with markedly different Core Areas;
2.2 hectares and 7 hectares

Below bottom:
Wrens are less likely to inhabit long narrow woods
Photo: RSPB Images

fragments, depending on shape, required which are not included in the inventory England the pearl-bordered fritillary
to ensure that more than 50% remains currently. appears far more sedentary in coppice
unaffected by external impacts (Laurance woods, which are invariably surrounded
A simple illustration of the Core Area
1991). Further research is required in the by intensive land use, than in other
concept is the observation from a lowland
UK to establish how far detrimental edge regions where it occupies different
arable landscape in eastern England that
effects penetrate a range of different habitats which cover a wider area (Barnett
wrens are less likely to be present in long,
woodland types in different situations to & Warren 1995).
narrow woods than in circular ones
enable Core Areas to be accurately
probably due to increased exposure, It has been noted that many invertebrates
calculated. As a rough rule of thumb it is
especially in windy weather (Hinsley et al associated with herbaceous woodland
known that changes in microclimate
1994). plants may benefit from woodland
extend up to three times the canopy
fragmentation, temporarily and locally as
It should also be borne in mind that the
height in from forest edges and that such
the length of woodland edge will be
smaller the Core Area the greater the
gradients show a reasonable degree of
increased and enhanced light penetration
chance of less mobile species wandering
consistency between studies carried out
may lead to population increases in
out into hostile territory and succumbing
in different climatic regions (McCollin
important herbaceous foodplants (Kirby
to adverse conditions created by man or
1998). This means that a majority of
1994). However, where woods are
natural predation. Circumstantial evidence
ancient woods in England and Wales may
bounded by intensive land use, clearly this
suggests that this is a significant selection
not have a significant Core Area, given
does not undermine the idea that Core
pressure which has led to further recent
that 44% of them are between 2-5ha
Area is important for sustaining their long
reductions in the dispersal ability of some
(Spencer & Kirby 1991) and there is likely
term value to biodiversity.
species. For example, in South East
to be a substantial number less than 2ha

Key features for woodland biodiversity (continued)

Right: Woodland edge adjacent to other reduce the need to manage open ground
Transitional habitats are now rare, especially in the lowlands
Photo: Mike Lewis semi-natural habitats habitats within woods. Saproxylic
Below: invertebrates are a good example, as they
Hedges often provide the only link between woods Intensive land use has increasingly led to
Photo: Woodland Trust picture library need the juxtaposition of old trees and
the establishment of abrupt woodland
deadwood to breed and open habitats in
boundaries.Transitional habitats, which
which to nectar (Key & Ball 1993). For
survived at least to some degree until only
20-30 years ago, from woodland through other woodland species with less specific

scrub to other semi-natural habitats, requirements, e.g. badgers (Neal 1986),

including flower-rich grassland or other semi-natural habitats adjacent to

heathland, are now rare, especially in the woodland may also play a valuable role in

lowlands. Even hedges, which in many cases increasing the area of suitable available

provide the only link between semi-natural habitat and thereby sustaining viable

habitats, continue to be destroyed or lost populations which the woodland alone

through mismanagement at an alarming could not otherwise support. Depending

rate. Over 110,000km of hedgerows were on their size and shape, adjoining

lost between 1984-1993 with over 61 per semi-natural habitats may also increase the
cent of this loss taking place after 1990 Core Area of woodland unaffected by
(CPRE 1999). detrimental impacts from intensive land
use and link woods enabling species to
Where other semi-natural habitats do
migrate and operate over still larger areas.
occur adjacent to woodland they have a
valuable role to play in fulfilling the needs
of many species which require different
habitats in close proximity.This may

Wood anemone may only spread readily into adjacent areas
Photo: Archie Miles

Density of semi-natural habitats While some woodland species are able to of countryside around a woodland
move around in a patchy landscape over a increases, more species will be able to
According to island biogeography, the
large area, e.g. sparrowhawk (Smart & operate over a wider area and use other
chances of a species finding a new island
Andrews 1985), many characteristic species semi-natural habitats as stepping stones
decreases as the distance it needs to travel
of ancient woodland are poor colonisers between woods. As most woods in the UK
increases. However, its chances of survival
and may only spread readily into adjacent may be smaller than their MDA and,
once it arrives depend on the likelihood of
areas, e.g. wood anemone (Peterken 2000). therefore, too small to be self-sustaining,
it finding the right habitat.The theory
There are species, however, intermediate the density of semi-natural habitat in the
predicts that in general this will be greater
between these two extremes. In general surrounding countryside may thus be a
on islands that are bigger or have been
red squirrels are not thought to disperse vital factor in determining whether or not
around for longer (MacArthur & Wilson
more than 1km in fragmented landscapes a site's value to biodiversity is sustainable
1967). There has been much refinement
(Rushton, Lurz & South 1998). In eastern in the long term. As a counterpoint it has
and development of the theory over the
England, the likelihood of treecreepers been suggested that isolation is not
years, with thoughts varying from the idea
being present in woodland has been shown altogether a bad thing, as those species
of large "core" populations unaffected by
to decrease as the distance to the nearest most capable of migrating are likely to be
"satellite" populations (Hanski & Gilpin
wood increases (Hinsley et al 1994). The generalists with the competitive potential
1991) to models in which all populations
same study has also concluded that the to displace sensitive, specialist species with
can become extinct and be affected by
amount of woodland within 0.5km of a poor powers of dispersal (Simberloff & Cox
neighbouring populations (Levins 1970).
wood is important for long-tailed tits and 1987). While this may be true of remote
However, it is still regarded that in general,
within 1km for chaffinches and islands it is less likely to be true of
extinction rates decrease with increasing
great-spotted woodpeckers. remnant patches of semi-natural habitat in
area of habitable sites and that
the UK (Dawson 1994), as mobile species
colonisation rates decrease with increasing It follows that, as the proportion of
are already able to move between them.
isolation (Elmes,Welch & Carey 1992). semi-natural habitat within any given area

Key features for woodland biodiversity (continued)

Was the original Wildwood wall to wall trees?
Photo: Keith Huggett

Linkage of open ground habitats refuge for species which would otherwise
have disappeared (Elmes,Welch & Carey
There is debate over the nature of the
1992). Others make the case that it is
original Wildwood. It has long been
unlikely that traditional management has
conceived as wall to wall trees with
squirrels able to make arboreal journeys been around long enough or has been

from Land's End to John O'Groats.This sufficiently constant for species to have

appears to be backed by the pollen record, evolved to be dependant on it.They suggest

although many assumptions are made in that the simpler explanation is that some

determining weighting given to the woodland management has by chance

abundance of different species. However, perpetuated temporary or permanent open

this image is increasingly questioned. If this ground habitats, which were present in the
was the case where did all the open ground original Wildwood (Hambler & Speight 1995,
species present today survive? Some have Vera 1998). The suggestion that large
suggested that as the climate has cooled herbivores, such as Aurochs, were not
since about 6,000 years ago open ground adapted to live off the sparse vegetation of
habitats, established as a result of forest a woodland floor reinforces this idea (Tubbs
clearance, created much warmer 1996). It has also been supported by recent
semi-natural habitats which acted as a conjecture about savannah in Mediterranean

Woods can block some butterflies from dispersing
Photo: Woodland Trust picture library

Europe and the observation that there is a habitat requirements not associated with should be easier to re-create and less
thin but continuous pollen record of insect- old growth are instead reliant on temporary internationally rare than semi-natural
pollinated plants typical of open ground and permanent semi-natural open ground woodland, which should be valued for the
habitats. Such plants produce relatively little (Peterken 1996). It is debatable whether length of time it has taken to evolve
pollen compared with wind-pollinated these are strictly woodland species. For
(Hambler & Speight 1995). However, it
species and the fact that their pollen has example, the pearl-bordered fritillary may
should be borne in mind that woods can
been recorded at all leads one naturally to be confined largely to coppice woods in
act as a barrier to dispersal of open ground
the conclusion that there was more to the South East England but in the South West
species, e.g. certain butterflies will not fly
Wildwood than just forest (Rackham 1998). and North,Wales and parts of Scotland it is
over it (Munguira & Thomas 1992). Others
a species of well-drained grassland, bracken
Whatever the truth it is undeniable that
and scrub habitats (Barnett & Warren 1995). have suggested that this is because they
over the millennia open space habitats
However, loss of other semi-natural habitats provide a cue which enables non-dispersing
flourished at the expense of woodland and
means that much woodland management for species to remain within a fairly discrete
that traditional woodland management (i.e.
conservation has focused on the area (Elmes,Welch & Carey 1992). Either way
coppice, coppice-with-standards and wood-
maintenance and creation of such habitats linkage of open ground is important, within
pasture) sustained temporary or permanent
within woodland (e.g. Fuller & Warren 1993, woods or between areas adjacent to
open ground habitats within woods.
Fuller & Warren 1993a). woods, to sustain its contribution to
Perhaps it is not surprising, therefore, that
the majority of species with very specific Some people suggest open ground habitats biodiversity.

Measures of woodland biodiversity potential
Inset: The overarching conclusion when all the of ancient woodland under consideration identified as being of greatest importance
The Wye Valley has a high density of ancient woodland
Photo: Archie Miles key features identified are considered that is semi-natural. In effect this will to biodiversity, with the exception of old
Below: together is that the contribution that highlight the extent to which the habitat growth; size, Core Area, woodland edge
Cumulative Core Area takes account of all semi-natural habitats
Photo: Woodland Trust picture library sites make to woodland biodiversity has undergone gross change as a result of contiguous with other semi-natural
increases as their temporal and spatial re-planting or invasion by species not habitats, density of semi-natural habitats
continuity increases. native to the site e.g. exotic conifers and and linkage of open ground habitats.
In this context the following measures, rhododendron. In doing so it assumes that for woodland
which can be used at a landscape or site biodiversity the most significant edge
Cumulative Core Area of
scale, encompass the key features of effects are associated with intensive land
semi-natural habitats
woods for biodiversity: use rather than with open ground in
This measure is determined by calculating general.This also ensures consistency with
 Density of ancient woodland cover the cumulative area of all semi-natural the basic assumption which underpins the
 Percentage of ancient woodland which habitats (including planted Ancient Core Area Model (Laurance & Yensen 1991)
is semi-natural Woodland Sites) within the area being that edge effects are equal on all sides. As a
considered and the combined length of
 Cumulative Core Area of semi- measure it effectively summarises the
natural habitats their boundaries with intensive land use. A overall degree to which semi-natural
shape index (Paton 1975) can then be used habitats are fragmented. It is important to
 Area of old growth
to define mathematically the degree to note that the use of this measure means
Density of ancient woodland cover which together they deviate from a circle. woodland creation would not be
In turn, this figure can be used to work out prioritised at the expense of other existing
This measure takes into account the
the cumulative Core Area (Laurance & semi-natural habitats.
importance of ancient woodland and
Yensen 1991) by making an assumption,
reflects its extent as a percentage of land Area of old growth
subject to further research, that
detrimental edge effects penetrate a This measure seeks to identify all areas
Percentage of ancient woodland of old growth and takes into account its
distance of 100m.
which is semi-natural
importance, which is otherwise not
By accommodating all semi-natural habitats
There is a need to temper the previous adequately represented by the other
in the calculation, the measure
measure by ascertaining the proportion measures.
encompasses all the remaining key features

Corresponding strategies for improving biodiversity
Nature conservation in the UK has taken be important to focus on action where Cumulative Core Area of Below:
Restoring planted Ancient Woodland Sites is a priority
a site-centred, species-orientated there is greatest potential for biodiversity semi-natural habitats Photo: Archie Miles

approach. Legislation has focused on the gain.While there are no actions that can
Increasing the cumulative Core Area of
designation of special areas and on species increase the density of ancient woodland
semi-natural habitats within a geographical
protection (e.g. the Wildlife & Countryside cover this measure can be used in
area or site can be achieved by targeting
Act 1981; the Countryside & Rights of Way targeting action to a particular geographic
the creation of new native woodland or
Bill 2000), while nature reserve selection location or in prioritising sites.
other semi-natural habitats. For example,
strategies have tended to focus on Percentage of ancient woodland taking the idealised example shown in
identifying a representative sample of sites which is semi-natural Figure 2, the net result of planting the
(e.g. Ratcliffe 1977; Goodfellow & Peterken Restoring planted Ancient Woodland Sites
area linking the two ancient woods in
1981). Conservation management, in turn, is the only means by which the area of
Figure 3 is that the cumulative Core Area
has placed great store by the perpetuation Ancient Semi-Natural Woodland can be
remains the same, whereas in Figure 4 it is
or restoration of traditional management increased. It is estimated that 38 per cent
significantly increased even though exactly
practices. One of the effects of developing of ancient woods in England and Wales
the same area of planting has been
the measures, based on the key features have been converted to plantations since
of sites to woodland biodiversity the 1930s (Spencer & Kirby 1992). Where
exotic conifers and rhododendron In pursuing such a strategy we need to
identified, is to give greater focus to what
significantly impact on the sites’ ancient acknowledge that it is inevitable that we
can be achieved in the surrounding
semi-natural character, or have the cannot pass on the landscape pattern we
potential to do so, restoration can be see today, nor can we simply replace lost
Density of ancient woodland
achieved by removing them and reinstating woods, if we are to sustain the widest
There is a need to be realistic. Resources site-native trees and shrubs, preferably by possible biodiversity. However, since many
for conservation are always likely to be natural regeneration (Radford 1998). of the woods that have been cleared
limited and semi-natural habitats may It should be accepted, however, that the would have been located next to the
never take up more than 20 per cent of resultant stand-types may not necessarily remaining ancient woodland, past
the UK's land area. If woodland reflect the woods' former historic landscapes may to some degree be
biodiversity is to be improved then it will composition. restored.

Corresponding strategies for improving biodiversity

Reservations have previously been particular region then inevitably as the viewed as a lower priority than the
expressed about applying island cumulative Core Area of semi-natural strategies outlined above in sustaining
biogeographic theory to habitat creation habitats is increased greater connectivity woodland biodiversity in a fragmented and
(Margules, Higgs & Raffe 1982; Hill et al will result.This will either arise from hostile landscape.This is not to say that
1992; Dawson 1994; Simberloff 1998). It is creating extensions to existing semi-natural perpetuating traditional management
Figure 2 Area of small ancient wood: 8ha acknowledged that it is likely to take a habitats, stepping stones or corridors, practices is unimportant where they have
Area of large ancient wood: 32ha
Cumulative Core Area: 12ha very long time for habitats to mature to which are of sufficient dimensions to continued without a significant break.
the point where they are suitable for contribute to Core Area. However, this may only be true at a
colonisation by some species, particularly minority of sites.
Area of old growth
given gross changes to soils, and for
It may be noteworthy that the measures
While there is no quick way to develop
species with poor powers of dispersal to
can be re-interpreted to be equally
old growth stands this measure can be
spread. Indeed it can be argued that linkage relevant to other habitats. For example,
used to target: regeneration of agricultural
may actually promote predation, invasion measures for use in relation to improving
landscapes with veteran trees to wooded
and competitive displacement by more heathland biodiversity at a landscape scale
Figure 3 Area of new planting: 4 ha conditions where close to existing old
mobile species (Laurance & Yensen 1991), might be the density of heathland cover
Cumulative Core Area: 12 ha
growth stands; creation of new woods
though it seems unlikely that their existing (including sites capable of restoration), the
adjacent to old growth stands;
ability to disperse readily between habitat percentage of heathland which is not
management systems which perpetuate old
islands in a UK context would be degraded, and Core Area of semi-natural
growth characteristics in existing old
significantly further enhanced by habitat habitats.
growth stands and all nearby woods.
creation. In any case, by focusing on
increasing Core Area it should be noted The net result of the measures is that
that the emphasis is on enhancing the site-centred woodland management, which
sustainability of habitats rather than on seeks to promote the biodiversity of
Figure 4 Area of new planting: 4 ha
Cumulative Core Area: 16 ha linkage. However, if action is targeted to a existing semi-natural woodland, may be

Developing our plans and focusing our action

In the context of Keeping woodland alive Opportunity mapping Figure 5: 10km grid squares in England and Scotland
where ancient woodland exceeds 5 per cent land cover
and Seeing the woods for the trees, the Data: © Scottish Natural Heritage & English Nature
Nationally the measures will be used to
Woodland Trust will use these measures
identify priority areas of the country and Key
to monitor progress in improving
to target action for woodland biodiversity Data not yet available
woodland biodiversity potential and to
within them. It should be noted that there Percentage Ancient Semi-Natural
help inform the development of policies,
are some similarities to English Nature's
0-25 per cent
strategies and implementation. approach to work on Prime Biodiversity
25-50 per cent
Baseline profile of the Woodland Areas (Phillips 1996, Jefferson et al 1998).
Trust's sites In practice this will mean using the Ancient 50-75 per cent

At a site scale it will be possible to Woodland Inventory to focus initially on 75-100 per cent

determine numerical values for each of the areas of the country where there is a high

measures but there is no intent to density of ancient woodland (Figure 5).

produce a cumulative score for individual Within priority areas identified, restoration
sites, as there is insufficient scientific of planted Ancient Woodland Sites will be
evidence to adequately weight the the focus for action where the percentage
importance of these attributes one against of ancient woodland that is semi-natural is
another.This profile will provide a baseline low. An example of such an area, taken
against which any increment in the value of from English Nature’s Ancient Woodland
our sites to biodiversity can be monitored. Inventory, is shown in Figure 6. (overleaf)

Developing our plans and focusing our action
Habitat creation will be targeted where the Figure 9 Concentrations of ancient trees
in the UK.
cumulative Core Area of semi-natural Preliminary data: Ancient Tree Forum

habitats is low in spite of the high density

of ancient woodland. A relevant example
area is shown in Figure 7 but in Figure 8 Up to 100 Ancient Trees
the presence of other habitats designated 100 - 1000 Ancient Trees
as a Site of Special Scientific Interest as well
Figure 6 An area where restoration of Over 1000 Ancient Trees
planted Ancient Woodland Sites is as ancient woodland means that the
a priority
cumulative Core Area of semi-natural
habitats is already high.

In addition identification of old growth

stands will be used to target action to
conserve and extend this habitat wherever
it occurs across the country as a whole
(Figure 9).
Figure 7 An area where habitat creation is
a priority


Ancient Semi-Natural Woodland

Planted Ancient Woodland Site

Figure 8 An area where the cumulative
Site of Special Scientific Interest
Core Area of semi-natural habitats
is high

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Woodland biodiversity:
Expanding our horizons

The Woodland Trust was founded in 1972 and is the The Woodland Trust The Woodland Trust Scotland
UK’s leading conservation organisation dedicated solely Autumn Park, Grantham Glenruthven Mill,Abbey Road
to the protection of native woodland.The Trust achieves Lincolnshire NG31 6LL Auchterarder, Perthshire PH3 1DP
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