What is Native Woodland?
The Forestry Commission defines native woodland as consisting mainly of native trees, that is those that have grown here naturally since the last Ice Age and have not been introduced by humans.
This is based on the fact that modern humans only fully colonised the British Isles after the last ice retreated about 12, 000 years ago.
An Island Nation
At about the same time the ‘land-bridge‘ connecting us to the continent was inundated and we became an island, limiting the effect of woodland and forest changes occurring across the channel. Any new tree species would have to arrive via humans.
The forests of the time were made up of many familiar trees– oak, birch, willows, ash, alder, elm, Scots pine etc. But there are some surprising species that were not part of that ancient woodland – horse chestnut, larch, and sycamore. Even the beech may have been introduced by man.
Why are we so passionate about the native woodlands when there seem to be a lot of trees in the landscape?
The woodlands we see across the British Isles today are a mixture of ancient woodland, Victorian game plantations, commercial conifers, shelterbelts and farm copses, including a vast range of trees, some native but many not. It is the relative value of different forests for wildlife that we are keen to highlight.
For example, the introduced Spruce and Larch species have 37 and 17 insect species associated with them respectively. In contrast, the native Scots Pine has 91 and in native Oak woodland you have the possibility of finding 284 different insect species scattered over individual oak trees.
A similar search of introduced Horse Chestnut trees would yield only 4 different species, whereas the native birch supports 229. And if you wonder why conservationists are passionate about cutting down rhododendron, it supports zero insects, none.
Of course, insect associations are only one part of the equation. For example, birds such as Siskin, Crossbills and Goldcrests breed mainly in conifers. The small birds living in such woodlands then provide food for predators such as the Sparrowhawk which also prefers to nest in conifers.
But, overall, any native woodland is far, far richer for biodiversity than introduced forest as it has had so much longer for evolution to develop the associations of trees with lichens, insects, molluscs etc.
We have also developed a human association with them, from folk tales, art and poetry, legends to food and herbal remedies. They are part of who we are, and Moor Trees will keep working to retain and enhance that ancient link.