Deforestation around the globe is commonplace in today’s environmental discussions - rainforests the size of football pitches being destroyed every day and many species being lost forever. In the UK however woodland cover has actually increased over the last few decades and is at it’s highest for the last 200 years.
Surely, you must be thinking, this is a good thing? It is however not! Only around 1.5% of the land cover in Britain is established ancient and native forest. Trees are going up in the UK at a reasonable rate, however the majority of new growth forest is exotic evergreen conifers, which grow quickly with long straight trunks that are ideal to manage and are good for industry.
More and more native woodland species are losing their homes, and have no alternative to turn to. New growth forest provides a year round dark canopy, allowing little light for growth of other species. Their needles fall to the ground, but instead of decomposing to provide nutrients to the soil they are highly acidic and effectively sterilise it instead. As a result the British countryside is becoming all too familiar with the dark silent rows of symmetrical trees, with no other layers of vegetation and very little wildlife.
Deciduous woodlands hold so much diversity in terms of vegetation and the wildlife attracted to it. The oak, hazel, beech, ash, alder, birch, willow and elm encourage biodiversity by providing a food source, shelter, playground and protective haven for many native British species. Image a forest with the high canopy, the younger trees pushing through, shrubs and bushes and the herbaceous and ground layers thriving with different species. The birds and insects are singing and fleeting from tree to tree, whilst the possibility of seeing a red squirrel or badger inspires you to keep going. Take these trees away and you loose this species rich ecosystem, where animals are stranded and unable to adapt to their new environment and plants do not have the right nutrients or soils to grow.
The broadleaf forest not only physically acts as a home for many species it is also important for stabilising soils and soaking up the down pours we regularly endure in the UK. Without the trees playing their part the ground is subject to erosion, run off, drought and floods. Once this stability is lost it can be difficult to establish again, leaving sterile grounds and lifeless landscapes.
Not all is lost however. Even though it can take thousands of years to establish a forest ecosystem alike those of the remaining ancient British woodland, there are organisations out there that are attempting this task. Whether by conserving that last 1.5% of woodland or by promoting the planting of native trees, these efforts and peoples increasing awareness and enjoyment of this ancient habitat, contribute to the diminishing British woodland problem.