History in the making – the next chapter in the story of ancient woods

A precious historical artefact nestles deep in the recesses of my filing cabinet – a full set of paper copies of the original Ancient Woodland Inventory for England. The reports, compiled county by county, contain hundreds of copies of maps, with hand drawn boundaries of areas deemed to be ancient woodland, prefaced by pages of contextual information about the county and its woodland.

I still refer to them occasionally. Even though the maps are now available digitally and have been updated more than once since the Inventory was produced in the 1980s and ’90s, the text that accompanies them is not available anywhere else. I also like the connection that reading these reports gives with the origins of the inventory. They were produced through hours of work by individual human beings, tracing and transferring boundaries from paper maps, searching for and interpreting historical maps and documents, and in some cases visiting and surveying sites. The handwritten notes on which they are based are still held by Natural England in their Peterborough offices. In future, they may be seen as a historical source in their own right.

The original production of the Inventory was limited by availability of resources – both in terms of the time to carry out detailed research, and the sources available – and also by the technology at the time. It was also limited by the purposes for which it was envisaged it would be used – certainly not the detailed planning cases in which it is often called into question. There is pretty broad agreement of the need for an update, to make the Inventory more fit for the purposes for which it is now used – as set out in our Enough is Enough campaign and a previous blog on these pages.

With an updated Inventory there'll be more room in my filing cabinet...

With an updated Inventory there’ll be more room in my filing cabinet…

However, despite (and in some ways because of) technological advances, producing a new, better Inventory is not without difficulty. In this digital age we potentially have access to a lot more data, both geographical and historical. The process of interpreting all of this will still be down to individuals. And while understanding of ancient woodland and its importance has continued to develop in the last 40 years, increased policy protection for ancient woods means there is far greater pressure on the Inventory to be accurate, and for transparency and standardisation of the decision making process to classify woods, which is not as easy as it sounds.

Hats off, then, to Natural England, who are trying to move this forward. A further meeting this week brought together representatives from Natural England, Forestry Commission, the Woodland Trust, the National Archives and others to thrash out some of the issues and come up with a plan to build on the work that has already been done to update the Inventory in the south east of England.

It feels as though things are moving in the right direction, and while for me it may feel like a sad day when it happens, it will also be a better one for ancient woods when the original Inventory is consigned to the history books.

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About Kaye Brennan

Senior Campaigner (Policy & Advocacy) for the Woodland Trust and Administrator, 'Woodland Matters' blog
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12 Responses to History in the making – the next chapter in the story of ancient woods

  1. david llewellyn foster says:

    In response to Andy White’s passionate & welcome intervention, we ought to rethink what it all means.
    Sadly for some of us, we cannot literally revisit the ancient forests of old, prior to the Romans, their successors the Normans, then subsequently besieged by the Elizabethan’s insatiable appetite for timber in the early modern era of the wooden ships, prior to the exponential industrial pillage of empire, the “triumph” of science and beyond. No, regret and nostalgia for our imagined past is depressive folly, albeit enriched and only perhaps compensated for by the magisterial Genius of the great British Romantic poets.
    What we ought to be taking very seriously though, is the beautiful necessity of cultivating intelligent biophilia; by investing in ecological creativity~ feeding the urgent human need for authentic, spiritually replenishing, restored and restorative habitats (& livelihoods.) What is a forest or woodland absent of deer, boar, ancient black bees, pure water and the irreplaceable fauna and flora that constitute an ethical native biodiversity? How can we ever expect to witness the flourishing of river ecosystems in this land if golf courses and holiday parks are the prime objectives?
    The information age has accelerated incredible advances in design and artistic expression, more and more informed by a deepening awareness of natural aesthetics and function through approaches like biomimicry, permaculture and ecopsychology. We need to acknowledge proactively, this enlightening movement…that also encompasses business, finance and socially responsible entrepreneurship…and recognize that our best inspiration is Nature Herself, Living Intelligence as experienced through Daimonic Wisdom ~ not in the packaged commodification of sanitized links, putting greens, safari theme parks and folksy chalets….

    • andy white says:

      Well said David, eloquent and thoughtful. I’m afraid the WT no longer does what it says on the tin, top management jobs being filled by ‘redundancies’ from the forestry commission. I believe the WT no longer has as its prime objective, the preservation of ancient woodland. It’s been written off. They are only concerned with planting more saplings, for a subsidised fee of course, £ per acre and turn the rest into ‘amenities’. I feel mad dog mean about the whole thing. When they ask at some point ,’under whose watch were the nations ancient forests ultimately destroyed?’ , I wonder who will step forward.

      • Kaye Brennan says:

        Andy, David, thank you for your comments. There is more about our work around the Fineshade application and the Forest Holidays partnership here: http://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/news/latest/forest-holidays/. This should reassure you, and also give you the latest news.

        • andy white says:

          No Kaye, I am not reassured in the slightest. In fact the link you sent me has made me even more anxious.Firstly the confirmation that ‘Forest Holidays’ is primarily owned by the Forestry Commission and then, the quote from Austin Brady, your conservation man, ‘The FC have a duty,
          … to maintain an appropriate balance between the social, environmental and economic benefits that the public forest estate can deliver. We support this principle ……
          Brady is quoting the very loophole in the planning framework that you are ostensibly trying to shut down after the debacle of Oaken Wood!
          Furthermore, it turns out that Brady spent several tours of duty as, guess what,… a regional manager of the FC. Elsewhere this would be called insider trading. Perhaps we can be polite and call it a greasing of palms via the old boys network.
          Let’s recap: Brady has signed a deal with his very good chums to turn acres of forest floor into dwellings,( temporary for the tourist, permanent for the forest) in a way that cannot help but impact catastrophically on that ecosystem. Why? to moderate FC ‘behaviour’, or to glean the millions siphoning their way into WT coffers? Give me a break.

          • Woodland Trust says:

            While we are more than happy to discuss our position on Forest Holidays and appreciate the thoughts and opinions of our readers, we need to make clear that personal defamatory comments are unacceptable. We would encourage our readers to continue discussions on our blogs but with appropriate respect for others. Should you have further concerns regarding this or other posts please email us at enquiries@woodlandtrust.org.uk

          • andy white says:

            Dear Kaye, thankyou for reminding me of my manners. As a swarthy cove I sometimes forget that if I am to make my views heard on the relentless devastation and commercialization of our last remaining woods, a process that cannot help but involve a coup de grace for many of our beloved wild places that I should mind how I say stuff and avoid offending.
            So…. I just come with questions.
            In order that the public do not feel either misled and deceived by your, er, un-public talks with the Forestry Commission, that accusations of flouting planning laws do not abound, that past associations with the FC are not deemed to be of conflicting interests with WT policy could we not have a Woodland Matters blog on the subject?
            In the interests of transparency and so that your credentials remain unimpeachable should the public and grass roots of the WT itself not have a forum sanctioned for open discussion on this matter?
            What message would it send if your arrangement with the FC were to remain clandestine if only by virtue of reluctance to hear public views on the matter ?

  2. andy white says:

    History in the making is that the WT have joined forces with ‘Forest Holidays’ to clog that inventory with as many chalets as they possibly can ,for financial gain. Shame on you! For shame, you, who we trust, its in the name, to protect our woods, have now prostituted yourselves for filthy lucre, with the pathetic promise of compensatory offsetting (which you yourselves have identified and fought against, as being no substitute for the real thing). I’m disgusted. You have betrayed us and yourselves.
    ”Woodlands did not disappear to be made into golf courses and motorway service stations!” (above comment from WT) No Kaye, now they disappear for the middle classes to come holiday in, but hey, its ok, the chalets, in their hundreds are, guess what ,eco-chalets! made of wood ..er..oh yeah.. cut down from the same forest you want to flog for public consumption.Tell us, if you dare show you face, what part of your manifesto says you’ll sacrifice woodland for the service industry, or have you, along with the SoS, used the planning law loophole that deems it justified because the benefits ‘clearly outweigh the costs’? I dare you to let this comment stand.

  3. Ash says:

    Does an INVENTORY exist for the whole of the UK? Or is it only England that holds this type of record? Is it too much to ask that the UK stops thinking in terms of England only?

    • Kaye Brennan says:

      Hi Ash, all UK countries now have an ancient woodland inventory – in England, Scotland and Wales these were created in the 1980s and early 1990s by the Nature Conservancy Council (now Natural England). They are now held and maintained by the statutory conservation agencies in each country. In Northern Ireland, the Woodland Trust produced the inventory, which was launched in 2007 (www.backonthemap.org.uk).

      The inventories are all provisional. This means that woods may be added or removed from them, or their classification might change, if new evidence comes to light. Except in Northern Ireland, they do not include woods under 2 hectares (5 acres) in area. At the moment none of the inventories cover ancient wood pasture and parkland sites.
      Wales has updated its inventory recently, using better map sources and the benefits of GIS technology. In Northern Ireland, the Woodland Trust project produced an AWI some 20 years later than those produced for the rest of the UK, benefiting from lessons learnt elsewhere. England now lags behind, though many counties and districts in the south east of England have done the same, building up like a jigsaw a more accurate and comprehensive inventory of ancient woodland across much of the region that holds a higher density of ancient woodland, under greater development pressure than any other (http://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/blogs/ancient-woodland/facelift-for-ancient-woodland-inventory/)

  4. sherwoodforestcommunityvision says:

    Reblogged this on Sherwoodforestcommunityvision’s Blog and commented:
    Interesting.

  5. daphnepleace says:

    Thanks, Kaye, I find this really interesting, and it leaves me wondering what were the sources used by the original compilers of the Inventory? And what were their sources… and so on. I’m wondering who/when/where/how were the very first records made of our woodlands? Or were woodlands so prevalent in the past that keeping records was not deemed necessary? Obviously, in those times, woodlands did not disappear to be made into golf courses and motorway service stations!

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