Lowland Wood-Pasture & Parkland

Lowland Wood-Pasture & Parkland - John Miller - Explore Kent

Current Status

Wood-pasture, as the name suggests, is a habitat that has derived from the traditional grazing of livestock within woodland. Wood-pasture is the legacy of historic land management practices of medieval times that were widespread up until the early 19th century. Large, open-grown or veteran trees - often hundreds of years old and varying in their size and density - would have been traditionally pollarded on a regular cycle to create an annual harvest and endless wood supply for use on the farm. These pollards, as they are often termed, are significant features in their own right. It is believed that the UK has a higher density of pollards than most other European countries.

The tree species most common to Kent's wood-pasture are hornbeam and oak, although beech, ash and sweet chestnut do occur. Traditionally livestock would graze between these scattered pollards and/or stands of trees in open-grassy areas or heathland, creating areas of distinctive wood-pasture. Wood-pasture is not only valued in terms of its historic and landscape character but for providing a habitat for many forms of wildlife, from communities of specialised lichens and fungi, to hole-nesting birds, bats and hundreds of insects.

The south east of England has one of the highest proportions of wood-pasture and veteran trees in Western Europe. The Kent Habitat Survey 2003 estimates an area of 3,240 ha of lowland wood-pasture and parkland but this was always believed to be an underestimation. In 2008 a new inventory was carried out using a combination of historic maps, habitat records and ‘ground truth’ and it showed that we have 10,997 ha of Wood Pasture & Parkland in Kent, roughly 2.73% of the county’s area. Despite this, the extent of Wood Pasture in Kent follows has been following the same pattern of decline as in the rest of the UK.

Factors

  • Lack of appropriate and inappropriate management (e.g. pollarding and grazing) has led to a decline in the quality of traditional wood-pasture.
  • Lack of people trained in pollarding management.
  • Lack of younger trees to replace the veteran trees as they die.
  • Damage to the trees and roots of veteran trees from soil being eroded and compacted by livestock, mowing machinery, people and cars.
  • The spread of non-native plant species (e.g. rhododendron and sycamore) meaning that veteran trees have to compete for light to survive.
  • Conversely, letting in too much light too quickly to pollards that have previously been heavily shaded can stress the trees. All changes in management should be undertaken relatively slowly to allow veteran trees sufficient time to adjust.
  • Pollution caused by the drift of fertiliser and herbicide has a detrimental affect on soils and all animals and plants that depend on these for their survival.
  • Reseeding and deep ploughing carried out to improve the quality of pasture can damage a tree's roots while also removing existing grassland and heathland.
  • Over-tidiness, for example, where unsafe trees are felled completely rather than made safe.
  • New developments can lead to the loss of valued wood-pasture. For example, the Channel Tunnel Rail Link led to the loss and fragmentation of wood-pasture at Chilston Park.

Current Action

  • Some of the best examples of this habitat are protected as SSSIs and Local Wildlife Sites (LWS) totaling 458ha.
  • Guidance on management of SSSIs is provided by Natural England. Management guidance of LWS is provided by a Wildlife Sites Officer at the Kent Wildlife Trust.
  • The Forestry Commission supports the conservation of wood-pasture through the England Woodland Grant Scheme.
  • The revised Agri-Environment Scheme for 2005 identifies wood-pasture as a target habitat for enhancement and restoration.
  • Examples of the type of management being carried out to enhance and restore wood-pasture sites in Kent include: pollarding of maiden trees and newly planted trees and so creating new pollards; re-introducing grazing to woodland pasture.
  • Countryside Management Partnerships provide advice to landowners on the appropriate management for restoring and enhancing wood-pasture and parkland. They also co-ordinate the work of volunteers in the conservation of wood-pasture. .

Objectives

  1. Ensure that the current area of wood-pasture in Kent is actively managed through suitable grazing and tree management.

  2. Create new areas of wood-pasture and parkland in Kent where there is greatest opportunity and where this would not compromise nature conservation objectives for other habitats.

Relevant Habitat Action Plans

The relevant UK Habitat Action Plans:

The relevant UK Species Action Plans:

The relevant Kent Habitat Action Plans:

  • Lowland dry acid grassland
  • Mixed broadleaved woodland & plantations on ancient woodland sites
  • Old orchards