Native Woodland

Native Woodland - Alex Turner

Current Status

There are over 46,000ha of woodland in Kent, including mixed and coniferous woodland. Of this some 85% is native, broadleaved woodland, and 53% is ancient semi natural woodland. There are around 3,800ha of conifers, making Kent the least coniferised county in England; however much of this is on ancient woodland sites. The main wooded areas are found in the High Weald, the Kent Downs and in the Blean area.

The 2003 Kent Habitat survey indicates that 570ha of Kent’s woodland is the BAP priority type Lowland Beech and Yew Woodland, although this is probably a slight underestimate. It has declined in area by clearance and replanting with non-native species over the last 50 years. This includes calcareous beech and yew woodland, which occurs in Kent on the chalk scarps of the North Downs, for example at Halling to Trottiscliffe Escarpment and Wouldham to Detling Escarpment SSSIs. Beech woodland on neutral-slightly acidic soils comprises occurs in (but is not confined to) the High and Low Weald and may also be found in the Kent Downs, for example at Lullingstone Park. Acidic beech woodland occurs on light sandy or sometimes gravelly soils that are well drained (pH 3.5 to 4.5), and typical sites are found on the Greensand Ridge in Kent, for example at Toys Hill and at Bitchet Common, and in the High Weald.

The other BAP priority woodland type occurring in Kent is Wet Woodland. The 2003 Kent Habitat Survey estimates 231.2ha of wet woodland in the county. Small patches of wet woodland can occur within larger blocks of dry woodland, while larger areas of wet woodland frequently occur in mosaic with other woodland key habitat types and with open key habitats such as fens; in such cases, management of individual sites needs to consider both sets of requirements. Wet woodland combines elements of many other ecosystems and as such is important for many taxa, including otter. The high humidity favours bryophyte growth. The number of invertebrates associated with alder, birch and willows, is very large, although some are now confined to just a few sites. Even quite small seepages may support craneflies. Dead wood within the sites can be frequent, and its association with water provides specialised habitats not found in dry woodland types.

Woodland in Kent is important for several UK BAP priority species such as the heath fritillary and Duke of Burgundy butterflies, drab looper and Agrotera nemoralis moths, the dormouse, turtle dove, nightjar, song thrush and bullfinch. It is also important for bats and a variety of other woodland birds such as nightingale, firecrest, willow tit and hawfinch: Kent holds more than 15% of the UK population of firecrest and nightingale (Henderson, A 2004). Decaying timber in woodlands provides a rich habitat for invertebrates.

The varied nature of this broad habitat means that different types of woodland will occur on a variety of different sites and geological bases. Woodlands can include a range of important 'micro' habitats, including ponds, streams and open spaces. There are therefore many opportunities to improve the biodiversity of these diverse woodlands. Management of woodlands, for example by creating rides and coppiced areas, also creates a diversity of habitats and is vital to improve biodiversity.

Factors

  • The actions of deer, grey squirrels and rabbits can result in tree death, disruption of normal age structure and shifts in species composition.

  • Non-native species, that replace native beech and yew woodland species. These may include sycamore, rhododendron, Turkey oak Quercus cerris and cherry laurel Prunus laurocerasus.

  • Direct land take and fragmentation of the habitat as a result of development.

  • Lack of interest, expertise and incentives results in much beech and yew woodland being unmanaged, or managed unsympathetically.

  • Lack of management leading to the predominance of the older age classes in much beech high forest has increased the susceptibility of the beech population to damage from droughts and storms.

  • The high value of yew, and low value of beech and young non-native species such as sycamore creates pressure to realise the potential value of the timber.

  • Clearance and conversion to other land-uses, particularly in woods recently established on wetland sites.

  • Cessation of management in formerly coppiced sites encouraging succession to drier woodland types.

  • Lowering of water-tables through drainage or water abstraction, resulting in change to drier woodland types.

  • Inappropriate grazing levels and poaching of the soil by sheep, cattle and deer leading to a change in the woodland structure, ground flora impoverishment and difficulties for regeneration.

  • Flood prevention measures, river control and canalization.

  • Constraints on the spread of woodland from conservation sites onto adjacent ground from agriculture, industrial or residential development, leading to greater uniformity of structure across the site.

  • Poor water quality arising from eutrophication, industrial effluents, agricultural pesticide and and fertilizer drift and run off or rubbish dumping leading to changes in the composition of the ground flora and invertebrate communities.

  • Invasion by non-native species which alter vegetation composition and lower conservation value (e.g. Indian balsam Impatiens glandulifera); air pollution which may influence particularly bryophyte and lichen communities;and diseases such as Phytophthora root disease of alder.

  • Climate change, potentially resulting in changes in the vegetation communities.

Current Action

  • Some of the best sites for all three types of beech-yew woodland in Kent are protected as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs).
  • English Nature and the Forestry Commission are working with land owners to manage these sites.
  • Over 100has of beech-yew woodland is included within existing Local Wildlife Sites (SNCIs) with significant areas in the Lullingstone and Denge Wood complexes.
  • About 27ha of beech-yew woodland occur within Kent Wildlife Trust reserves, with significant areas at Burham Down.
  • KCC owned woods include areas of beech-yew woodland, for example The Larches, which is being positively managed under a management plan.

Objectives

  1. Maintain the net extent of existing native woodland. The Forestry Commission’s working definition of native woodland is woodland where at least 80% of the canopy comprises species that are suited to the site and are within their natural range, taking into account both history and future climate change. For the purposes of reporting on the Kent BAP, the working definition will be woodland identified as WB3 (Broadleaved Woodland) in the Kent Habitat Survey.

  2. Maintain the extent of ancient semi-natural woodland. For the purposes of reporting on the Kent BAP, this includes woodland identified in the Kent Habitat Survey as WB1 (Mixed Woodland) and WB3 (Broadleaved Woodland) and included in the Ancient Woodland Inventory, but excludes woodland identified as WCZ (Other Coniferous Woodland).

  3. Achieve improved condition for ancient semi-natural woodland and other native woodland.

  4. Restore native-species cover in existing coniferous plantations on ancient woodland sites (PAWS).

  5. Expand the area of native woodland in Kent through targeted woodland creation.

Relevant Habitat Action Plans

The relevant UK Habitat Action Plans:

The relevant Kent Habitat Action Plans:

  • Lowland wood-pasture and parkland
  • Lowland Fens

The relevant UK Species Action Plans: