An ancient habitat - woodlands
After the last Ice Age, most of Wales was
covered by forests – not an unbroken blanket of trees, but a
complex, varied landscape with lakes, fens and open
Then, there would have been shifting breaks in the tree canopy
caused by windblown trees, disease, fire, and the effects of large
animals and people.
Over millennia, people have cleared Wales's forest for
other land uses, creating today’s pattern of woodland patches in an
open landscape. All Wales's woodland has been altered by
management; none is truly untouched or natural.
Forests cover about 13% of Wales's land surface.
9% are plantations of non-native trees, such as Sitka spruce.
4% are semi-natural woodlands made up mainly of native trees.
Types of woodland
Wales holds a range of different types of woodland, reflecting
variations in soil type, climate and wetness.
Oakwoods are the most common type, developing
on relatively acid soils throughout Wales. Oak is the
dominant tree, but birch and rowan are also common, with holly and
hazel growing underneath.
Flowering plants are meagre in these woods (bilberry,
heather, and wavy hair grass are typical exceptions).
However, where there is high rainfall there can be a stunning
diversity and abundance of mosses, liverworts and ferns.
Mixed woods form on richer soils - trees
include ash and sycamore, and sometimes elm, lime, rowan, oak
and birch. There is often a rich lower level of hazel,
spindle, field-maple, guelder rose and yew.
These woods can be very rich in flowering plants, with dog’s
mercury, ramsons, primroses and bluebells.
Beech is a native tree in the south-east of
Wales, and the tree’s deep shade and litter means that few other
trees grow around it, making the woodlands where it grows far more
open in character.
Wet woodlands form on any areas which are
permanently or regularly waterlogged, such as lake edges, marshes,
fens and riversides. Trees are usually alder, willow or birch,
often with a rich variety of plants on the ground.
Threats to woodlands
Although whole woodlands are seldom cut down these days, there are
- Road-building and other developments – if woodlands are
fragmented, some animals and plants can’t survive.
- Livestock grazing – too much stops new trees from growing, too
little and growth is choked. Increasing numbers of deer is a
problem in some areas.
- Foreign species – Non-native species can invade woodlands and
damage the wildlife already there. Rhododendron is a classic
example, growing aggressively in upland oakwoods and smothering
- Management - woods can suffer from either neglect or too
Protecting the woodlands
Representative types of woodland are safeguarded within
protected sites such as SSSIs. There are other policies, grants and
schemes to encourage good management.
CCW is working with partners to develop and restore woodlands on
a large scale. The aim is to restore woodlands that have been
fragmented and help reduce some of the effects of climate