A common question that we get in the Woods under Threat Team is “how can you identify if a wood is ancient?”
The Ancient Woodland Inventory was created in the 1980′s and it shows most ancient woodland that is over two hectares in size, however when it was first created ancient woods below two hectares in size were not included. This means that there are a lot of woods out there that may be ancient and have not been identified yet that are being lost or damaged by development.
Ancient woodland is woodland that has been in existence since at least 1600, therefore it is really important to try and find evidence that shows that the woodland was in existence as near to 1600 as possible. This can be done in a number of ways such as through mapping history, such as local maps that were produced by local large land owners, OS maps and historic tithe maps. You may be able to find some maps for the area dating back to nearly 1800 by looking on the websites www.oldmapsonline.org and www.old-maps.co.uk.
Mapping is one way of being able to help support the evidence for the age of the woodland, and there are other ways that are also very useful, such as collecting any written accounts of the woodland. If the site was part of a large land holding at one point in its history it may be that there are written records such as land holding details where the name of the woodland may be included in the records. Some ancient woodland can even be dated back as far as the Doomesday book. If there is a local historical group in the area they may be able to help you with this research or the local archive office may have copies of written documents for the area that name the woodland, the archive office may also have copies of local maps that can be used to show the continuation of woodland cover on the site.
Species records for the site may also be available, surveys may have been carried out on site over the years and been sent to the local records office. This survey work may help by showing that there are ancient woodland indicator species present within the woodland, which is one more fragment of evidence that can be used to argue that the woodland is ancient.
If the woodland is under threat from a possible development, when you have collected the information about the age of the woodland this will need to be presented to the council, to show that this woodland is important and is potentially ancient woodland. Please also contact us too so that we are able to look into the application.
We also recommend that you send the information to Natural England, Scottish Natural Heritage or Countryside Council for Wales depending upon your location. The organisation will then be able to confirm if the site is ancient and add the woodland to the Ancient Woodland Inventory.
I hope that this is useful to you.
Please look out for my next post where I will be talking about Tree Preservation Orders.