Forestry Commission Wales has announced plans to update the nation’s Ancient Woodland Inventory.
In a press release, the commission said that these habitats, which date back to at least the 17th Century, “support many species of plants and wildlife that depend on the evolving but continuous environments created by dead and dying wood and broken sunlight”.
It added that the inventory was first produced about 30 years ago, and since then, technology for gathering data had improved dramatically and better sources of information had come to light.
The update, which will be carried out over the next 12 months, will identify former ancient woodlands that have subsequently been planted with conifer trees to satisfy the demand for timber over many decades.
These woodlands are known as Plantations on Ancient Woodland Sites (PAWS).
This information will guide decisions on restoring some of the PAWS to their natural state by removing non-native trees and planting native broadleaf species such as oak, birch, rowan and ash.
“Such work helps to increase the variety of different plant and wildlife species in the woodland by improving habitats and providing food and shelter,” the commission explained.
Wood pastures – ancient and veteran trees found on grazed sites – will also be systematically recorded as part of the update to the inventory.
Despite the ecological value of wood pasture, it has no legal protection, so identification on the inventory may help protect these sites from damage or destruction.
The concept of “ancient woodland” was developed in the 1970s and 1980s, when studies showed that woodlands that have had a continuous woodland cover for centuries were typically of higher nature conservation value than those that had developed recently.
The baseline date of 1600 AD was adopted because reasonable maps were available from this time (in England, at least).
But the commission admitted that it was an arbitrary date, and there was no clear ecological cut-off.
Michelle van Velzen, forestry and environment policy and programme manager at Forestry Commission Wales, said: “Ancient woodlands are a precious and finite resource that cannot be recreated.
“This update to the Ancient Woodland Inventory will ensure we have the most comprehensive and accurate information on the extent and nature of ancient woodlands in Wales.”
The update to the inventory will be completed in March 2011 and the new information will be supplied to local authorities for their use when developing planning policy that affects woodland.
Source: Forestry Commission Wales press release
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