Jaime Conrad


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3 Reasons Ancient Woodland Wales Is More Valuable Than Ever

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By: Jaime Conrad
Posted in: Ancient Wales
3 Reasons Ancient Woodland Wales Is More Valuable Than Ever

Why is ancient woodland Wales so rare and valuable? Forests with trees dating back to at least the year 1600 cover only about 2 – 2.5% of the United Kingdom. However, these woods are the most biodiverse habitats in the country, are home to native Welsh broadleaf trees, and contribute to the environment in unique ways. 

Why are areas designated “ancient woodland Wales” special? These forests, which date back at least 400 years, are the most complex environment in Great Britain. They protect wildlife, help the environment through soil and air quality, and preserve another piece of Wales’ rich history.

Wales’ forests provide a haven for more threatened wildlife species than anywhere else on the island. The undisturbed soils and centuries of decaying wood in these forests have created the perfect climate for fungi, slugs, snails, and insects. Many species of birds and mammals also reside in these natural sanctuaries. 

These ancient woodlands also positively impact the environment by removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and preventing land erosion. They can help keep large earthworks in place. Many ancient woods are also important archaeological sites that preserve the past. Stone circles, dolmens, burial mounds, and other structures have been found in these living history museums made of ash and oak. 

The Four Classifications

There are four different classifications of ancient woodland.

“Ancient semi-natural woods” are those that have developed naturally. Humans didn’t plant the original woodlands, although people used timber from these forests. These areas have had continuous woodland cover for at least 400 years. 

“Plantations on ancient woodland sites” are ancient forests in which the trees have been cut down and replanted with non-native species. Usually, these non-native species are coniferous (pine trees, etc). However, these areas still have the complex soil found in ancient woodland. Environmentalists are working to restore these areas. 

“Restored ancient woodland sites” are forests that once contained more than 50% non-native species but now contain less than 50% due to human efforts at restoration. They’ve had continuous woodland cover for at least 400 years. While people have restored these forests to a more natural condition, the woods aren’t necessarily in good ecological condition or wholly restored. 

“Ancient woodland sites of unknown category” may fall into any of the three mentioned categories. It may be a forest that is going through a transition phase. Therefore, it may contain shrubs, trees that have been removed, young trees, or ground that is being made ready for planting. 

Ancient Woodland Inventory

The first inventory maps date back to the 1800s. In more recent times, the Forestry Commission Wales performed an initial count of Wales’ ancient woodlands in the 1980s. At that time, the count recorded 62,000 hectares or 153,205 acres. However, newer digital mapping in 2012 showed that ancient woodland Wales is much larger than that. This new count shows 95,000 hectares or 234,750 acres. It also means that the ancient woodland areas make up 30% of all forests in Wales. 

There are 20 woodland Special Areas of Conservation, which are protected habitat areas in the United Kingdom. These protected sites in Wales also belong to the Natura 2000 network of  European protected wildlife sites . These areas are safeguarded by European and international law. 

Why is this significant? Well, for several important reasons. 

Forestry Commission Wales is responsible for protecting these forested areas from development. A complete ancient woodland map helps guarantee that no sites become neglected or developed due to improper zoning. 

The trees in Wales’ ancient forests date back at least 400 years. Some of the most common native tree species include ash, oak, and birch. Other ancient woodland tree species include beech, sycamore, alder, rowan, cherry, hazel, hawthorn, and holly.

Ancient woodland Wales is one of the country’s most abundant wildlife habitats. These woods are also home to more threatened species (at least 152) than anywhere else in the United Kingdom. 

Are Areas Designated as Ancient Woodland Wales Left Completely Wild?

The short answer is “no.” No ancient woodland in Wales has been left completely undisturbed. However, there are areas where the woodland is semi-natural, meaning that some parts of it have been left relatively undisturbed. 

However, these areas are managed responsibly, and their resources are used with care. Ancient woodlands provide a certain amount of sustainably sourced timber. Because of this use, the woodlands also give people jobs, which helps the economy.

How These Natural Areas Help the Environment

By leaving enough of the forests in their natural state, the woodlands also aid in an action called “carbon sequestration.” Carbon sequestration is when carbon dioxide is removed from the Earth’s atmosphere, captured, and stored. There are two types: Biological and Geological. In biological carbon sequestration, carbon dioxide is captured and stored in vegetation, soil, and oceans. With geological carbon sequestration, carbon dioxide is secured and stored underground in rock formations. This second type is generally done industrially via machinery, whereas biological capture happens naturally. 

When Wales’ ancient woodlands are protected and managed sustainably, their ecosystem remains strong in helping to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. In fact, grasslands, rangelands, and forests capture about 25% of the world’s carbon emissions. Since the buildup of CO2 and other greenhouse gasses can contribute to  climate change , the forests’ natural air-cleansing properties are vital to life on Earth.  

How Can I Find Ancient Woodland Near Me?

Each country in the United Kingdom keeps its own records of ancient forests. For an ancient woodland UK map, you can use  Woodlandr  to locate an ancient woodland near you by entering your postcode. This database covers ancient woodland Scotland, Wales, and England. 

To find a complete list of ancient woodland in Cymru, please consult an  ancient woodland Wales map . Below are a few examples of sites that are well worth the drive. 

South Wales

Tenby, Wales, was built in the Middle Ages and is still enclosed by a remarkably intact wall. In this charming seaside town, you can find  Pembrokeshire Coastal National Park . It’s the only national park situated on the coast anywhere within the United Kingdom. Within it is Pengelli Wood, an ancient oak woodland with clearly marked footpaths. Pengelli Wood is one of the largest ancient oak forests remaining in Wales. 

Ty Canol is another forest in the national park, and this one dates back some 6,000 years. The landscape is atmospheric and mysterious, with its moss-covered trees and rocks. A 2.5-mile circular walking trail will take you around the wood and through a small section of it. You’ll continue on a dirt track once you reach the ancient woodland from the park.

Wentwood Forest is another of South Wales’ ancient woodlands. This enchanted place is steeped in folklore and hosts a stone circle older than Stonehenge, which was built around 4,500 years ago. There’s also a Bronze Age burial mound about a mile to the north of Gray Hill. 

North Wales 

In North Wales, Erlas Black Wood is a small ancient woodland of about 2.5 hectares enclosed by the Wrexham Industrial Estate. This wood is quite an exciting find. It survived the Second World War when factories were built in the surrounding area to make artillery. It’s home to some very large oak and ash trees. Erlas Black Wood also provides the perfect environment for delicate and beautiful spring flowers such as yellow lesser celandines, wood anemones, dog violets, and vivid magenta early purple orchids.

Few people know that North and Mid Wales boast ancient woodlands known as “Celtic Rainforests.” Yes, those are really a thing! While the biggest rainforests are located in the tropics, rainforests exist in cooler climates, too. Most of Wales’ Celtic Rainforests are located in the river valleys of rural Ceredigion, Powys, and Gwynedd. A few to check out are  Llechwedd Einion Coed Cwm Einion  woodland, and  Coed Felenrhyd and Llennyrch

The  Din Lligwy  prehistoric Celtic settlement in Anglesey, Wales, is surrounded by ancient woodland. Here, amidst oak and ash trees, you’ll find an Iron Age village, a Neolithic burial chamber, and an old and quite charming stone church. 

How to Identify Ancient Forest

If you’re out for a stroll and spot a lovely forest you’d like to explore, how can you tell if it’s ancient woodland? You may have to consult an ancient woodland inventory to get confirmation. However, below are a few indicators of whether you’ve encountered an ancient woodland. 

  • Trees: Guelder rose, Lime, small-leafed, Wild service tree, Spindle
  • Flowers: Bluebell, Wood anemone, Primrose, Lily-of-the-valley, Wild garlic, Dog’s mercury, Red campion
  • Ferns: Scaly male fern, Hard fern, Hart’s tongue fern
  • Lichens: Barnacle lichen, Lungwort lichens
  • Slugs: Lemon slug
  • Evergreen perennial: Pendulous sedge
  • Fungus: Hazel gloves fungus
  • Insects: Violet click beetle

The boundaries of ancient woodland may resemble ditches or banks. They might have overgrown hedges, boundary trees, or correspond with parish boundaries on old maps.

There may also be evidence that humans used it in earlier times. Some telltale signs include the remains of mine pits, furnaces and hearths used for roasting ore, and trees that show signs of being cut back. 

The only drawback of stumbling upon an ancient woodland is that you may not want to leave! But don’t worry. Sometimes, you can find areas in woodland Wales for sale, like in 2023 when 28 acres of ancient  Pembrokeshire coastal woodland  went on the market. 

Jaime Conrad
03/29/24 01:24:44AM @jaime-conrad:

Thank you for giving it a read, Ceri! 

Ceri Shaw
03/29/24 01:18:28AM @ceri-shaw:

A fascinating read. Many thanks for posting. Going to spread the word on the socials :)