The woodlands that are under threat and why this is important

England was once virtually covered in trees, mainly hardwood trees like the oak and the elm. There were once large forests, like that at Sherwood, where Robin Hood became famous, that were almost impenetrable. Now Sherwood is a sad series of truncated pieces of woodland. The mighty oaks were felled to build a navies, and to make way for the intrusion of humans who now inhabit cities and towns and farms where once were trees. There are still woodlands in England which provide us with biodiversity and the benefits of trees and forests, which I have written about quite a lot in recent posts.

The Woodland Trust is a charity that seeks to protect and preserve native British woodland. It buys woodland and manages them sympathetically for wildlife and that the public may enjoy them. They recreate native woodland where they can and when they can and jealously protect ancient woodland from being destroyed or degraded.

In the last ten years the Woodland Trust says that around one hundred square miles of woodland (26,000 hectares) have come under threat. The threats are development in one form or another. Some may wish to build a golf course on woodland, others airports, roads, houses and power lines across them.

Of course people need homes, and roads and leisure activities and electricity but people also need woodland. The Woodland Trust, established in the days when climate change was an unknown factor, justifies its attempts to protect ancient woodland on the grounds that it is protecting British heritage and so it is. Since 1930 half of Britain’s ancient woodland has been destroyed or degraded beyond short term repair.

The Trust points out the importance of woodland in biodiversity, as home to Britain’s rarer animals and plants – the only home they know. If we lose the trees we lose the wildlife that lives in on and among them. The Trust can provide a long list of animals whose habitat is threatened and if they lose their habitat are threatened with natural extinction.

These include the willow tit, marsh tit, barbastelle bat, bechstein’s bat, pearl-bordered fritillary butterfly and dormice all rely on ancient woodland to survive.

The British woodland heritage is also important; woodlands can give us a glimpse of the past; they hold earthworks built in the bronze and iron ages, show the boundaries of ancient estates and hold ancient hedges, embankments and furrows. Once lost, they are lost forever.

All these things are important but some of us do not know a pearl bordered fritillary from a marsh tit, or an Anglo Saxon Barrow from the pyramids and some of us do not even care of these things are lost, because they perceive that they do not affect us.

However, losing the trees themselves is the greatest loss. If we destroy or degrade woodland by building roads and pylons across it several climate change devices are triggered. First, the clearing of the land releases a large spurt of carbon emissions into the atmosphere from the soil, as it is disturbed, and from the inevitable burning of the waste vegetation. Secondly the carbon stores that were once trees are lost and eventually the carbon in them is released without new carbon being sequestrated. Thirdly, the cooling effect of the trees is lost and that cooling effect is going to become increasing important as the climate gets warmer.

It makes you wonder why some think that burning trees is environmentally sustainable.

The Trust has launched “WoodWatch” – which provides information about threatened woodlands. If you care about climate change it is worth getting involved at The Trust can help next year with local campaigns to preserve woodlands, by contributing to hall hire for meetings and designing banners and providing advice. They have also put on the net a very useful map from which you can find woodlands in your area that are under threat.

Trees and woodlands have an importance that is far above the importance of our heritage and our biodiversity, as important as those matters are. They are as an important tool in the fight to slow down the rate of climate change as are wind turbines and solar panels. I hope that the Woodlands Trust will also use the climate change argument. We may not die if we lose all the pearl-bordered fritillary butterflies in England; we will die out if we lsoe the fight against climate change.


5 Responses

  1. My friend and I have a field at the end of our gardens ,beyond which is a small copse of mature decidious trees of all kinds , the trees are gradually encroaching across the field which has not been used for anything for about 20 years, . we would love to see the young trees grow up so that the wood grows from about 3 acres to 7 or 8 , please tell us what we can do and what help we would need to help these trees to grow un molested

    • You can buy the field upon which the new trees encroach. Then simply allow the trees to self generate naturally. That is costly from the point of view of buying the field but probably will result in the long term in having a natural mix of vegetation.

      You can plant young deciduous trees, and will have to protect them from predators, usually by wrapping a temporary wire corset around the trunk. If you do this on someone else’s land there is nothing to stop the land owner from cutting them down at some stage in the future.

      A middle course is at this time of the year to collect the acorns, seeds and nuts from what already exists and simply plant them in the field. Some will take and grow but not as quickly as if you planted young saplings and protected them and not as slowly as if you allowed nature to take its course.


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