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The Great British Woodland


In Britain we are fortunate to have some very special and ancient woodlands, some of it dating back almost to the last ice age. These ancient woods are the best place to see native species of trees such as English Oak, Beech, and the rare Wild Service Tree, which in turn support native animals, birds, plants and insects, such as deer, pine martens, the rare blue ground beetle, and purple hairstreak butterflies. Beech woodland in particular tends to be associated with uncommon plants, including several orchid varieties. Our ancient forests are also the best place to see British bluebells - a species presently under threat.

In addition to their ecological significance, wooded areas also form a key part of our history and heritage, and many symbols of the forest have informed our national identity. Epping Forest, a 12th-century royal hunting ground, was the hiding place of highway robbers including Dick Turpin; holly, ivy and mistletoe - so significant to pre-Christian peoples - are now fully incorporated into our Christmas traditions.

You'll find many fabled wooded areas and trees dotted across the UK. Generations of children have heard tell of Robin Hood's home in Sherwood Forest, which you can still visit in Nottinghamshire; and it's said that the Spanish chestnuts at Croft Castle in Herefordshire were planted using nuts from the wrecked Armada. In other places you'll find yews many thousands of years old and hollow oaks large enough to hold a party in!


We have taken inspiration from our native woodlands and the trees they contain with a collection of gifts, books and home accessories.



Ancient woodlands encompass different types of habitats from the Atlantic oakwoods of the west to broadleaved coppice woods of the south and east. They have had the time to evolve into complex communities of interdependent trees, plants, fungi and insects that are rarely found in younger woods.

The technical definition of ancient woodland is that it has existed since 1600 in England and Wales, and since 1750 in Scotland. This is when the earliest reliable mapping started to be published. However ancient woodland can be ascertained from a variety of evidence, including old published maps, tithe maps, ancient wood names and the presence of certain plants and animals, so called indicator species.

Agricultural expansion and urban development mean that there is now little ancient woodland remaining. It covers just 2% of the country and only around half of this is still in a semi natural condition. The other half has been felled and replanted or underplanted with exotic conifers and invasive species such as rhododendron.


These woodlands can be historical treasure troves full of archaeological and cultural features that give an insight into past land use. For many centuries communities have relied on woodland to provide fuel and shelter, for hunting, grazing livestock, and latterly for early industrial produce. Banks and ditches may be found around woodland edges, signs of ancient parish boundaries, old deer parks, or used to keep animals out of valuable coppice woods. They are often marked by overgrown hedges and can have ancient trees that were used as boundary markers.

Features associated with early woodland industry include charcoal hearths, where charcoal was produced in kilns, saw pits, white coal and potash kilns, and platforms used for processing and storage.

Woods may also preserve archaeological features from earlier times, before the wood established. For example, Bronze or Iron Age earthworks, or evidence of old field systems can sometimes be found.
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