Woodland and Trees
Ancient woods have been around for many centuries – long enough to develop as ecosystems that are rich, complex, and irreplaceable. Ancient woodland covers the slopes of most of the Ironbridge Gorge, giving the area its very special character. Although often disturbed by past mining and quarrying, these woods stand on sites which have had a covering of trees for many hundreds of years. As a result, they often support rare and unusual plants and animals.
Ancient woodlands are also living history books, with features such as mediaeval boundary banks, charcoal hearths, and old coppice stools, that tell us how woodland was used in centuries past.
The woods, particularly at higher elevations, such as at Benthall Edge and Lloyds Coppice, are especially important because they are referred to as borderland woods, ones that mark the transition in species and character between lowland Britain and those of the uplands.
Ancient woods are a delight to visit. Some produce spectacular displays of spring flowers – carpets of bluebells, bursts of wood anemones and celandines in spring. Abundant fungi can point to undisturbed soils. Other ancient woodland indicator species include wild garlic, dogs mercury, yellow pimpernel, and certain grasses and sedges which can be harder to spot.
Care of these special places requires the Trust to implement planned programmes of thinning and, at the same time, encouraging the growth of seedlings of native species.This approach to forestry is called Continous Cover Forestry (CCF). It retains woodland cover in perpetutity. It is important for the regeneration of the woodland that the young trees are protected from browsing animals, mainly deer. We aim to do this by using small exclosures 2 m in diameter in conjunction with our deer management programme. Using a CCF approach in our woodland helps us meet more of our objectives than if we used a traditional forestry system. The Trust is a member of the Continuous Cover Forestry Group.
Veteran and Ancient Trees
Veteran and Ancient trees are to be found all around the Ironbridge Gorge. They are not only beautiful in their own right, but are also recognised for their conservation value. This is because as trees age, they offer habitats to an increasingly wide range of plants, animals and fungi. Over time, water speeds up the process of rot and decay, creating hollows in the tree, which in turn provide secure roosting for bats, and nesting sites for different species of bird.
Indeed, decay and rot are very important nature conservation features. Fallen timber, for example, provides a rich habitat for invertebrates providing food for birds and other wildlife. However, decay also weakens trees, a process which requires the Trust to undertake regular inspection programmes and tree maintenance and safety work. Consideration is always given to the nature conservation and landscape value of trees, and wherever possible, specialist techniques are used to make individual specimens safe to retain them.