Wood Pasture and Parkland

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Jump to: | What is wood pasture? | Why is it valuable? | Our wood pasture survey | What we aim to achieve

What is wood pasture?

Characterised by big old trees growing in open pasture-land, wood pastures are often derived from medieval hunting forests and old wooded commons. The splendid trees they often contain are some of the oldest living things in our country. They provide a direct link with bygone landscapes and homes to many rare and threatened species.

Historically wood pasture has been overlooked and understudied as a habitat. Despite its value wildlife, we know little about how much wood pasture is left or what condition it’s in.

Wood pasture is a mosaic habitat which can vary quite a lot depending on historic and current management.  The main, essential attributes of wood pasture are:

  • Veteran and/or ancient trees. There should be trees that have grown in an open habitat, which tend to show good lateral branch development or have sunlit areas of the trunk. Veteran trees should contain dead and decaying wood, in the canopy, the trunk and fallen on the ground around them.
  • An open ground layer, such as grassland, heath-land and/or woodland floras. Ideally with grazing animals or a history of grazing.

The density and species of trees and scrub can vary but the presence of veteran trees, an open ground layer are essential components. Where the site is in good condition there will be multiple generations of trees for future continuity, with at least some veteran trees or shrubs.

Why is it valuable?

Veteran trees are important in their own right, but they also provide food and home for thousands of species. Many of these are among the country’s most rare and threatened species. The high levels of naturally occurring deadwood in these trees provides a vital or valuable habitat for specialist fungi. In turn, these encourage saproxylic (those that depend on deadwood) invertebrates. The tree can then develop wonderful rot holes used by nesting birds, epiphytic plants and roosting bats. 

Trees grow and veteranise differently in open conditions than they do in woodland. They grow wider, more complex crowns that support more species than is usually possible in woodland trees. They often live longer in open situations which means larger volumes and more consistency of the precious deadwood habitat.

As with many other habitats, wood pasture is facing many threats. Development, overuse, conversion to arable farmland, climate change and fragmentation to name but a few. One of the overarching threats to this habitat is actually lack of awareness. The habitat has been historically understudied and undervalued. This means a lot of people aren’t familiar with it as a habitat at all, not to mention the value to wildlife it quietly sustains. We hope that our survey will raise the profile of this habitat, helping ensure it’s survival for future generations.

Click here to read more about the wildlife in wood pasture and parkland.

Our wood pasture survey – a walk in the park!

We’ve devised a simple survey technique to assess the condition of wood pastures. This year we’re trialling wood pasture surveying in Suffolk. We’re asking volunteers to visit wood pastures to test the survey and help us refine it until it’s suitable for volunteers to use all over the country.

The survey itself is very simple to conduct, but we are also offering training for those that would feel they would benefit from it, or just find it interesting! It is really a structured walk around these beautiful areas which can be done specifically, or as part of a day out with family and friends.

If you would like to help by surveying sites near you, or own some wood pasture that you would like to survey, please request a survey pack. Or contact megan.gimber@ptes.org if you have any questions. We will send you maps of sites near you and a survey kit which has all the information and forms you will need to survey wood pasture and parkland in your area.

What we aim to achieve

The first step of improvement is always measurement. You cannot improve what you cannot measure

This survey aims to record the extent and condition of wood pasture and parkland habitat across England. This information will become a baseline, to which all future conservation efforts can be compared. It will be able to guide future conservation efforts in a comprehensive and informed manner.

By taking part in this survey you are helping us achieve this. You will be contributing to a central record, logging both location and condition of this habitat. This data will enable us to share best practice management advice to individual sites, as well as assess the nationwide condition and connectivity of this habitat.

Surveying Richmond Park

Surveying Richmond Park

Many of the species assemblages in wood pasture are the product of a long wood pasture legacy. They often have low dispersal ranges so it is important to see how well connected this habitat is nationwide and where the condition of sites might threaten this connectivity.

The data produced will help landowners and the general public alike recognise the value of this habitat. This includes its culture, history and beauty, but also a vital and unique habitat for some of our most threatened species.

If you would like to help by surveying sites near you,  please request a wood pasture survey pack


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