The impoverishment of British woods

Coed Tregib. Photo: Steven Kind @ Woodland Trust (click to enlarge)

A walk through a British wood may be delightful, but according to a new study in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, woodlands are becoming more similar, leading to an overall homogenization of the landscape. They are, in a word, becoming duller. The study compares the woods of Dorset 70 years ago with those now. Botanist Sally Keith went back to the same sites in Dorest visited by early ecologist Professor Ronald Good. Good had recorded the species of flora he found in some 1500 woods in great detail. Keith revisited 86 of his woods, as close to the same day as possible, and found that the canopy of leaves had grown denser and that the unique character of each wood was no more. Holly was found in nearly every wood while in the past it was only in half, and species such as hawthorn, ivy and foxglove were also much more common. Many distinctive species had simply vanished from these woods: she found, for instance, no yellow iris, devil’s-bit scabious and red bartsia. In total 117 species had disappeared, while only 47 new plants were recorded.

Keith thinks there are two chief reasons for the decline in woodland biodiversity: the end of coppicing, which created  bright clearings and let in light to favour less common plants and the increase in run-off of nitrogen due to modern farming which species such as holly thrive on. Read more in the Guardian

I picked up this story from Conservation Magazine who note

Since the proportion of non-native species remained low, the authors suggest that the biodiversity loss probably isn’t due to invasive plants. Climate change is also an unlikely explanation because the woodlands didn’t show a shift toward new species.

For more about British woods visit The Woodland Trust from where the above photo is taken.

  • The Woodland Trust has more than 1,000 woodland sites , in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, covering 20,000 hectares (50,000 acres) across the UK.

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