In South Yorkshire, Sheffield & Rotherham Wildlife Trust are leading the Ancient Woodland Inventory Update. Here’s some background on the importance of Ancient Woodland and why the inventory is being updated.
What is Ancient Woodland?
Ancient Woodland in UK law has a specific definition: woodland that has been present more or less continuously since 1600. Woodlands of this age have immense value not just ecologically but also culturally, and while recent woodlands can be incredibly valuable there are some features of ancient woodland that can’t be replicated. These woodlands are protected from most development due to their importance and scarcity in the UK landscape.
The importance of ancient woodland
Ancient woodland provides a link between past and present, each woodland a piece of living history. This continuity for over 400 years has created a complex environment that provides a habitat for hundreds of rare plants, animals, fungi and microorganisms. These species are rarely found elsewhere, making ancient woodlands an irreplaceable part of our landscape. The woodland is also a unique cultural setting as a hub of human activity, preserving evidence of production and craft activities that have since fallen into disuse. These tranquil and beautiful spaces are a unique part of our heritage, and need to be preserved so that they can be enjoyed today and in the future.
Why an update to the Ancient Woodland Inventory is needed
When the Ancient Woodland Inventory was first created, mapping techniques were not as sophisticated as they are now. The first inventory was the result of a paper-based assessment that was later digitised. As part of this process, some errors have slipped in, and the data is not as accurate as modern uses require. In addition, the data sources available to surveyors have vastly improved, with access to digitised 1st edition OS maps in particular allowing more accurate mapping. Digital techniques will also allow for greater precision, enabling the minimum woodland size to be lowered from 2 hectares to 0.25. The update is an opportunity to check the original inventory, improve its accuracy and add areas that may have been missed the first time around.
The original Ancient Woodland Inventory also did not consider wood pasture and parkland. Increasing recognition of the value of these sparsely wooded habitats has led them to be inventoried, but this inventory is provisional and did not fully investigate the historical context of individual sites. Including ancient wood pasture and parkland in this update from the start will allow a more comprehensive mapping and align their designation with other ancient woodland types.