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The WoodlandsFuelling a Revolution
WHAT ARE ANCIENT WOODLANDS?
Bluebell close up
As well as being attractive, Bluebell is also one of the 'indicator species' found in ancient woodlands.

The 35 Heritage Woodlands are all ancient woodlands, that is, woodlands known to have existed since at least 1600. This date is of significance as before this no major planting of woodlands is thought to have taken place. As a result, woodlands existing at this time must be either those that have grown up naturally on sites cleared in the distant past, or must be derived from the primeval ‘wildwood’ that developed following the end of the last Ice Age.

There are a number of ways in which to determine whether a woodland is of ancient origin. Perhaps the most valuable of these is documentary evidence, which can give a definite answer as to whether a wood was in existence in or before 1600. Documents giving evidence about the age of woodlands include maps, surveys, wills and records of land purchases or sales.

In the absence of documentary evidence, it is necessary to rely on a number of other lines of evidence.

  • Ancient woodlands are often on steep slopes, for example valley sides; other flatter areas having been cleared for agriculture.

  • Ancient woodlands are often located adjacent to parish boundaries, areas nearer to the original village having been cleared for settlement or agriculture.

  • Ancient woodlands often have an irregular shape, adjacent areas of land having been enclosed and converted to agriculture in piecemeal bites. In contrast, plantations tend to have regular shapes and straight edges.

  • A feature still evident around the edge of a number of the Heritage Woodlands is a woodbank, often with an associated ditch. The woodbank would, in the past, have had a wall or hedge on top, these having been constructed in order to keep out grazing animals, which would otherwise have eaten young trees and growing coppice stools.

  • Ancient woodlands are often named after nearby settlements, for example Canklow Wood, Herdings Wood and Wincobank Wood. Other elements of a wood’s name that suggest an ancient origin include ‘coppice’ (e.g. Scholes Coppice), and ‘spring’ (e.g. Bassingthorpe Spring) which refer to the former management of the woodland by coppicing. Further information on woodland names is given in the section of this website covering archaeological and historical evidence.

  • Perhaps the most interesting way in which ancient woodlands can be distinguished from more recently established woodlands is by their diverse flora and fauna. Indeed, certain plant species, usually those that spread relatively slowly by vegetative means, are known to be either entirely restricted to, or only rarely found outside, ancient woodlands. These are known as ancient woodland indicator species. Where a number of these species are found together, there is a high likelihood that the wood in which they occur is of ancient origin. A wide range of ancient woodland indicator species occurs in the Heritage Woodlands, including the trees Field Maple, Holly, Wild Cherry and Sessile Oak, and the flowers, Bluebell, Dog’s Mercury, Ramsons, Wood Anemone, Wood Sorrel and Yellow Archangel.

Individually, each of these lines of evidence is inadequate in determining the age of a woodland. However where a number of these conditions are found together, there is a good chance that the wood is ancient.

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