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Friday, 1 June 2012

Wood-pasture and parkland in England

A New Forest veteran
While George Peterken in 1977 did recognise wood-pasture and parkland as distinct and important forms of ancient woodland, they were largely ignored in much woodland conservation policy and practice until the late 1980s. Then during the 1990s interest in veteran trees exploded; they were recognised not just as important habitats for lichens, deadwood beetles, fungi  etc, but as worthy of conservation in their own right. The need for a different approach to management, compared to coppice and high forest stands, became more widely appreciated – in particular the critical role of grazing in creating relatively open mosaics of trees, scrub and grass/heath. The inclusion of wood-pasture and parkland as one of the priorities under the UK Biodiversity Action Plan ( further stimulated research into their distribution and conservation. We now appreciate that it is much more widespread than had previously been thought, but that in turn raises more questions about how it can be maintained. While the most extensive areas, such as the New Forest, Epping Forest, Windsor Great Park, Sherwood Forest are covered by SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) protection there are many other sites throughout the country whose significance may not have been recognised. Hence much work has gone into surveys over the last decade.
Restoration of grazing in Epping Forest

The surveys being undertaken to identify the location and extent of wood-pasture and parkland in England are due to be published shortly. Projects have been underway for a number of years at a national level to produce a provisional inventory for wood-pasture and parkland for the whole of England. A number of datasets was used to compile the provisional inventory, including the Woodland Trust Ancient Tree Hunt whose volunteers have now gathered 100,000 records of veteran trees across the UK and local specialists who shared their knowledge about their patch.

Using aerial photographs backed up with evidence from historic maps, over 156, 000 ha of the habitat has been identified in England.  Our challenge now is to ensure any new sites identified through this process are effectively managed, which will include ensuring the next generation of veteran trees is growing on or near the site and that the open habitat around the trees is being managed effectively. 

Harding, P.T. & Rose, F. 1986. Pasture-woodland in lowland EnglandInstitute of Terrestrial Ecology, Huntingdon.
Kirby, K J, Thomas, R C, Key, R S, McLean, I F G, & Hodgetts, N. 1995. Pasture woodland and its conservation in Britain. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 56 (suppl.) 135-153.
Peterken, G.F. 1977. Habitat conservation priorities in British and European woodlands.  Biological Conservation, 11, 223-236.
Read, H.  2000. The veteran tree management handbook.  English Nature, Peterborough.

Keith Kirby and Suzanne Perry
Natural England Touthill Close, City Road, Peterborough PE1 1UA
E-mail address:

Maintaining semi-open conditions around dead wood in Sherwood Forest.

Veteran oak and regeneration – but how do we bridge the gap between them?

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