Ancient Woodland

A beech tree at Ashridge Estate, Hertfordshire

Ancient woodland plays a part in our heritage and creates habitat for our wildlife, however Britain has lost almost half of its ancient woodland since the 1930s. The National Trust is working to reverse this decline.

Ancient woodland is defined as an area of land where there has been a continuous cover of trees since 1600 and currently it makes up only 2% of British woodland.

However, it is not just their history which makes them important, ancient woodland is as biodiversity-rich as tropical rainforests. Until 2014, these trees could not be designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest but the organisms living on them or in them could be. Also unlike buildings, there is no formal recognition for old trees- no listing status, no plaques and no guarantee of their protection.

Creating the right conditions for ancient tree species to thrive can be a fine balancing act requiring careful intervention. Fingle Wood, a 334 hectare (825 acre) area of ancient woodland on the edge of Dartmoor in Devon, has been planted with non-native conifers. This has created 212 hectares (525 acres) of dense, shady woodland, which has meant smaller trees such as the oak have struggled to get enough sunlight. The National Trust and the Woodland Trust joined forces and bought the area with the aim to take away the conifers in a measured way to allow sunlight to the old woodland and ground flora.

However, this is a slow process and will take at least 50 years of careful restoration to undo the damage caused by the conifers but the National Trust is taking steps to help maintain these important woodlands.