‘BRITAIN’S Ancient Woodland’ was the subject of a presentation at the latest meeting of the Malvern branch of the Worcestershire Wildlife Trust (WWT).
Guest speaker Dave Taft from the WWT enlightened members on how the woodland in the UK was once so extensive and dense a squirrel could travel from Land’s End to John O’Groats.
After the last ice age, successive tree species moved across the land bridge from Europe to the British Isles.
Pollen records show birch trees were the first to establish themselves, from around 8,000 BC, followed by Scots pines – well able to survive in harsher climes – followed by oak, hazel and elm, and, finally, lime trees.
Dave said the squirrel’s journey might, however, have been interrupted by naturally formed clearings. Large herbivores such as bison, auroch, elk, boar, and beaver, created and maintained open areas, and clearings were formed by fire and the natural cycle of birth and death of trees.
The impact of settlement and farming began to be felt in Neolithic times from around 6,000BC and by 2,500BC, as the Bronze Age developed, as much as 50 per cent of the Wildwood had been affected.
After the Norman conquest in 1066. most of the woodlands were seized by the Crown and were either managed as Royal Forests, and subject to Forest Law, or became absorbed by manorial and ecclesiastical lands, with some remaining as Common Land.
Then the clearance of ancient woodland proceeded at a pace.
As the population grew, so did the demand for land for farming, and timber as fuel, for charcoal making, for shipbuilding and construction.
Now, none of the ancient Wildwood remains, but the ancient semi-natural woodlands are still cherished – all are affected directly or indirectly by human actions but many dating back to at least 1600.
The WWT Malvern Group’s next meeting is at 7.30pm on January 5, 2023, at The Lyttelton Rooms, Church Street, Malvern. ‘The Best of Britain’ will be the subject.
Entrance is £2.50 – everyone is welcome.