Woodland conservation in the United Kingdom has received a lot of press coverage in the last few years. There is a growing public consciousness that we must preserve our native ancient woodlands. But those woodlands are still dwindling, under threat from both human building projects and human-caused climate disruptions, and natural threats like competition and disease. More than 1000 ancient woodlands have been threatened over the last ten years and thousands more trees are threatened not only by our actions, but also by our inaction and apathy.
In Britain, ancient forests are the richest and most diverse habitat we have, and in England, that was once covered by huge swathes of woodland, it now accounts for only around 2% of the land area. Once lost, these cannot easily be regained, if they can be regained at all. Contrary to popular belief, there is no wholesale and loophole proof protection for these precious few remaining areas of ancient forest in England. The threats from human development to ancient woodland is relentless.
Currently, woodland areas in England are threatened by large scale national developments like the high speed rail link, as well as smaller scale local projects like new roads and houses, golf courses and quarries. Fortunately, there are people, like those involved with the Woodland Trust, who are making these threats known, and making sure voices supporting the trees are heard. They, and other similar groups, lobby for small but effective changes to be made at government level, which would protect these trees, and preserve this important part of our landscape for future generations.
There are five main impacts in native woodland of development. Firstly, there is are chemical effects from human encroachment; there is disturbance caused by large-scale earthworks, traffic and heavy machinery; breaking up woodlands may mean that they are too small to exist as viable ecosystems; there can be invasion by non-native plants; and finally, there are cumulative effects which may kill off a woodland by small increments. All of these must be seen to if we are to save the ancient forests.
In Scotland, there are more areas where the native ancient Caledonian forest remains. Over one fifth of Scotland is covered in woodland, though only one third of that is native mixed woodland. Here, the threats to ancient woodland are less down to encroaching land-use, and more due to a lack of biodiversity. Large scale commercial planting in the 20th Century reduced diversity and made unnatural forests in which very few species could live. Fortunately, modern governmental policy and the guardianship of the Forestry Commission and other environmental groups have meant that the forests in parts of Scotland are not only surviving, they are thriving, and even growing. There is an aim to once more allow the native ancient forest to spread from coast to coast.
The future of British woodland is hopeful, but only if the destruction can be stopped, and the planting of trees and increasing of biodiversity continue. We must all be aware of the problems, and do our best to convince the governments to do something to ensure the survival of this most important and vital of habitats.