Version 2 - 5th February 2004
Concentrate on Britain
and in particular southern England. Our woodlands are described as semi-natural
vegetation. Good sources of
information are “The History of the Countryside” and “Ancient Woodlands” by
Types of Woodland
(A term used by Rackham)
Those woods that
established after the last Ice Age, about 10,000 years ago. The trees moved up from the
south, their advance only being blocked once the English Channel formed.
The sequence of expansion was (source: p86
History of the Countryside):
Birch, Aspen and Sallow
Pine and Hazel
Alder and Oak
Lime and Elm
Holly, Ash, Hornbeam, Beech and
Conifers are very limited: Scots Pine, Yew
and Juniper are the only native species.
There is no Spruce (the Christmas Tree) even though it is found in the
more northerly latitudes of Scandinavia.
It didn’t have time to reach Britain
before the land link was lost.
Many of our current woods are not relics of
the wild woods, but are areas that have been under constant tree cover. They have never been cleared even though they
may have been used as a source of wood.
According to documentary evidence they have been continuously wooded
since at least the 1600s.
Many of the heathlands
in Surrey have become woodland again.
Birch is a pioneering species. In
Langdon Hills, Essex, trees have re-established themselves on 19th century plotlands
(reference: p10 Ancient Woodlands). This
was formerly farmland that had been set aside for development as smallholdings.
Plantations and Forests
These are ploughed up fields that have been
specifically planted. It is common to
plant quick growing trees, such as spruce (a conifer) – eg,
Kielder Forest, Northumberland. The trees are
planted close together and there is little opportunity for anything else to
Forest such as the New Forest and Epping Forest are a Norman invention. They
were wooded areas maintained specifically for hunting.
1.5 Wood Pasture
These are like parklands - Hatfield Forest is a
Pigs and cattle graze around the trees near
human habitation. The animals eat new
shoots and therefore prevent the wood regenerating.
Up until the 19th century,
woodland was a profitable asset and therefore managed. Trees were coppiced and pollarded
in order to encourage new growth – these methods are described in more detail
in the two extracts from the nationmaster.com website. The wood obtained was used for firewood or
tools. Hornbeam and oak sprout well and
have good growth. The cycle of cutting
is between 5 and 15 years. In contrast
timber (used in building) needs 50 to 60 years to mature.
Coppicing is a
traditional method of Woodland management, by which young tree
stems are cut down to a foot or less from ground level.
In doing so, a multitude of new shoots is encouraged.
diagram illustrating the coppicing cycle over a 7-20 year period
These shoots (or "suckers") may be used either in their young state
for interweaving in wattle fencing as is the practice with willows, or the new
shoots may be allowed to grow and mature into fully established tree trunks as
with oaks or ashes, for the former use in shipbuilding (wooden ships) or carriagebuilding.
It may also be used to encourage specific growth patterns, as with cinnamon
trees which are grown for their bark.
It is not possible to coppice trees in a
wood pasture, because the cattle would eat the new growth.
Pollarding is a woodland
management method of encouraging lateral branches by cutting off a tree stem
two metres or so above ground level.
If pollarding is done repeatedly over the years, a somewhat expanded (or
swollen) tree trunk will result, and multiple new side and top shoots will grow
The main reason for this type of practice, rather than coppicing, was in wood-pastures
and grazing areas where growth from the ground upwards was less practicable,
due to the required area for grazing which would have been reduced by thickets
of low tree growth. Pollarding above head height also protects valuable timber
or poles from being damaged by browsing animals such as rabbits or deer.
An incidental effect of pollarding is the encouragement of underbrush growth
due to increased levels of light reaching the woodland floor. This can increase
species diversity. However, in woodland where pollarding was once common but
has now ceased, the opposite effect occurs as the side and top shoots develop
into trunk-sized branches. An example of this occurs in Epping Forest in London/Essex, UK, the majority of which was pollarded until the late 19th Century. Here, light levels
on the woodland floor are extremely low due to the thick growth of the pollarded trees.
Good examples of trees which are regularly pollarded
are willows in areas surrounding meadows.
A tree that has been pollarded is known as a pollard.
It is possible to get regrowth
in a wood pasture by pollarding the trees.
Stone Age - 5,000 BC
Impact of early man is debateable, but is
unlikely to have had a significant affect on the woodlands.
Iron Age - 2,000 BC
More of an impact, due to
the use of iron tools. There is evidence in the Thames and in Somerset of wooden
walkways across marshy and peaty areas.
The wood had been deliberately coppiced and cut.
Roman Age – 40 AD
- It is thought much of the landscape was now being opened for
- Hounslow Heath (Heathrow) was originally wooded, but was
cleared at an early time and became heathland.
- Clay soils hung onto their woodlands better.
- Woodlands were now being used by humans in a big way.
Saxon Age – 400 AD
Evidence from wooden
structures show wood with far smaller growth rings. This implies most of the big
trees had gone. There is a lot of reused
Middle Ages – 1100 AD
were being actively managed for timber, grazing and hunting. The population was steadily growing which put
pressure on the remaining woodland. The
Black Death (in the 14th century) reduced the pressure for a period.
However once the population recovered, woodland faced renewed pressure.
Modern – 1500AD onwards
Woods were enclosed in order to protect
them. This was particularly prevalent in
the 16th and 17th centuries. The woods were enclosed by ditches, fences or
banks. The enclosures were piecemeal,
with a particular piece of woodland being gradually enclosed more and
- Inward enclose – closing off the woods from within.
- Outward enclosure – cattle grazed on common land, which was
This land was also enclosed to protect it from the cattle.