The Importance of Woodland – Past, Present & Future – Gerald Price – 31st July 2017

The Woodland Trust was formed in 1972 as a charitable trust. They now own 1,200 woods covering approximately 75 sqare miles throughout the British Isles, and also work with landowners who own their own woods.

With around 300 employees, 300,000 members and many volunteers, they are financed equally by legacies, membership, grants, full-time fundraisers and sponsors such as Sainsburys, WH Smith and IKEA.

Woodlands are defined as trees, hedges, parkland with trees in them, and any other clusters, copses or clumps of trees. Twelve and a half per cent of the landscape in Britain is woodland, and the aim is to reach 25 per cent. Notably, London has 20 per cent woodland and there are 50 woods within 10 miles of Sheffield.

Trees live the longest of all living things and are the tallest. They are between 20 and 25 per cent carbon, so absorb CO2 from the atmosphere and emit O2, as well as providing an essential biodiverse habitat for 50 per cent of all wild life.

In the canopy of trees, for safety, there are raptors, butterflies such as purple emperor and hairstreaks, bats and other creatures. Lower down there are garden birds, other butterflies and mammals, while on the ground are mammals and flora. In the ground, fungi have a symbiotic arrangement with the roots of trees. The roots also hold the soil, aid water percolation and take up water, helping to prevent flooding.

Past ancient woodlands tend to be where ploughing was difficult, so biodiversity in the woodland has had time to develop and therefore contains the rarer species of flora & fauna.

Ancient woodlands of native species have been coppiced for hundreds of years, for charcoal, which was needed in steelmaking. They have also been coppiced for white coal (wood dried, then charred), which was needed for lead smelting, as it burns at a lower temperature. The coppicing was rotated in a wood and overseen by a wood ward, who was an important man.

Present objectives of the Woodland Trust are:

1. Protection – Promoting tree management and trying to link up ancient bits, when thinking of buying. This creates corridors for mammals.

2. Restoration – For example, replacing pine woods (which were planted after WW1 by the newly formed Forestry Commission to provide wood for commercial use, and are dark and unattractive to the flora and fauna) with woods of oak and native species, which are light, airy and more biodiverse, attracting flora & fauna.

3. Creation – Planting new trees by donating young saplings to communities, and working with the communities to plant on any bits of public land that cannot be used for anything else.

4. Control of pests and diseases – There are 19 threats at present, including diseased chestnut trees and ash die-back. It is likely we will lose all our ash trees which is the second most populous tree.

Future objectives are described in the Woodland Trust’s new ‘Charter for Trees, Woods & People’ which will be launched on 7th November 2017, which is the 800th anniversary of the ‘Charter of the Forest’ in 1217 (around the time of the Magna Carta) which recognised that the peasants had rights over the woods too.

Some 70,000 signatures of support for the new charter have been collected to date, and 100,000 is the target.

The 10 objectives are:

1. Thriving habitats for diverse species
2. Planting for the future
3. Celebrating the cultural impact of trees
4. Thriving forestry sector that delivers for the UK
5. Better protection for important trees & woods (TPOs)
6. Enhancing new developments with trees
7. Understanding and using the natural health benefits of trees
8. Access to trees for everyone, with paths
9. Addressing threats to trees and woods through good management
10. Strengthening landscapes with woods and trees

The Woodland Trust are doing essential and very valuable work to maintain and improve our woodlands an d environment for the benefit of all.

Gerald gave us an excellent presentation, and encouraged us to support the Woodland Trust and get involved. For further information see